Credit: University of Queensland

Credit: University of Queensland

University of Queensland to set world standard with 100% renewable energy

Already the largest solar generator among Australia’s universities, the University of Queensland (UQ) is slated to completely offset its electricity usage with renewable energy upon completion of a solar farm by 2020. 

The 154-hectare solar farm will complement the existing array of UQ’s 50,000 on-campus solar panels, and render the university energy neutral upon operation.

Officially known as the Warwick Solar Farm, the project will consist of features such as solar panels, trackers, inverters, a switching station, an operations building as well as natural vegetation. 

Construction of the Warwick Solar Farm is scheduled to begin by the end of 2018, and is expected to finish within a year. Australian solar farm developer Terrain Solar will oversee the construction of the solar farm, and UQ will take ownership of the project upon commencement of construction works. UQ will also own and operate the plant over its expected life.

Proposed at a cost of 125 million AUD, the 64 megawatt solar farm is located on the outskirts of Warwick in Queensland’s Southern Downs. 

At full capacity, the solar farm is expected to generate approximately 154 000 megawatt-hours of clean energy on an annual basis — more than enough clean energy to negate not only UQ’s current, but also projected future annual electricity usage. 

According to information available on Terrain Solar’s official website, the solar farm is expected to reduce emissions in the electricity sector by approximately 125,000 tonnes of carbon dioxide on an annual basis.

“The solar farm will offset UQ’s current $22 million annual expenditure on grid electricity once it is fully operational in 2019,” said Professor Peter Høj, UQ’s Vice-Chancellor and President. 

“This project makes a clear and bold statement about UQ’s commitment to leadership in renewables and demonstrates UQ is prepared to make a meaningful investment in creating a sustainable future.”

According to Professor Hoj, “(the solar farm) will leverage UQ’s existing clean energy strengths and provide the potential to venture into emerging research and industry partnerships.

UQ is recognised as a world leader in renewable energy research and strives to promote energy awareness to the university community. 

In addition to the prospective Warwick Solar Farm, the university is also home to the Gatton Solar Research Facility and a 2.14-megawatt integrated photovoltaic system at its St. Lucia Campus, which is one of Australia’s largest integrated photovoltaic installations. 

The Warwick Solar Farm adds to UQ’s already comprehensive portfolio of renewable energy research, and provides new opportunities for enhancing the university’s renewable energy ecosystem.

While the solar farm itself will be an environmentally-friendly source of energy and serve as a venue for experiential learning as well as provide data for renewable energy research, UQ also plans to install a number of electric vehicle “fast chargers” and establish a visitor’s centre, effectively transforming the Warwick Solar Farm into a renewable energy hub for public engagement.

The benefits accrued by the construction of the solar farm also extend to job creation and community empowerment: construction of the solar farm is expected to generate 100 jobs, and following that it is expected to support six to seven ongoing full-time positions in operations and maintenance. 

Externalities generated over the construction phase, such as increased demand for accommodation, meals and support services, will benefit the local community. 

Terrain Solar is also currently engaged in discussions with local subcontractors and is looking into ways to maximise engagement with local businesses and trade specialists.

To provide a natural texture to the solar farm, landscaping and ground cover works will also be conducted during the construction phase. 

At the end of the project life, the solar farm will be decommissioned and returned to its original agricultural condition so that agricultural activities may resume.

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