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The AFL solar scoreboard

After battling through a long, cold winter, footballers aren’t alone in benefiting from the recent sunny September days.

Clubs around the country are installing solar panels to reduce their energy bills and flex their environmental muscle. Given offices, gyms, recovery centres and pools chew through most of their electricity during daylight hours, solar is a perfect fit.

Grand Final week is the perfect opportunity to recognise the real AFL heroes – the football clubs taking a punt on solar.

Punt Road Oval. Image: Metrosolar

Collingwood and West Coast might be fighting to be Premiers, but other AFL clubs are the champions when it comes to embracing renewable energy.

This week as the Eagles and Magpies line up for the Grand Final bird fight, let’s celebrate something we can all get behind.

The votes are in, the sun is shining. Here’s to the AFL’s best on ground solar performances.

Gold Coast Suns ‘solar halo’

The appropriately named Gold Coast Suns were early adopters, integrating a ‘solar halo’ during construction of their Carrara training base in 2011. The ring of custom made panels circle the top of the stadium, making the most of the sunshine state’s natural advantages with a 200kW punch.

Metricon Stadium’s ‘solar halo’. Image: Watpac

 

Essendon – True Value Solar Centre

In one measure to enhance performance, the Essendon Football Club moved their training base from Windy Hill to the True Value Solar Centre in 2014. As well as sponsoring the football team at the time of the move, the solar installers also installed panels to offset the energy demand from Essendon’s state of the art home base.

Richmond – Punt Road PVs

Ousted reigning premiers 2018 Richmond installed a 100kW solar setup on the historic Punt Road Oval grandstand in 2014. The club’s former ‘sustainability partner’ Metro Solar fitted the system, which supplies power to their gym, treatment and recovery clinic, education spaces and offices.

North Melbourne – Arden Street shines

In 2016 the Kangaroos grabbed the ball and ran with it, fitting a massive 200kW array to the Arden Street Oval’s two major rooftops. Receiving funding from the Clean Energy Finance Corporation and local council, the 800 panel system was the biggest in the City of Melbourne when installed, reducing the club’s reliance on grid-supplied power by 22 per cent.

Fremantle Dockers – Cockburn solar boom

Fremantle have also seen the light, working with their sponsor Solargain to install a 100kW system on their Cockburn training base. The Docker’s rooftop panels are part of the largest rooftop system in Western Australia – 1MW of photovoltaics have been deployed at the Cockburn Aquatic and Recreation Centre where Fremantle are an ‘anchor’ tenant.

‘Solar superman’ scoops Global Energy Prize

UNSW Scientia Professor Martin Green has become the first Australian to win the Global Energy Prize, beating Elon Musk to the prestigious $820,000 award.

Professor Green was honoured for having revolutionised the efficiency and costs of solar photovoltaics, making this the lowest cost option for bulk electricity supply.

ARENA CEO Ivor Frischknecht with Professor Martin Green


Australia’s ‘father of photovoltaics’ – or ‘solar superman’ – requires little introduction. He is director of the Australian Centre for Advanced Photovoltaics at UNSW, and with his students has driven sharp reductions in costs of photovoltaic solar systems by establishing manufacturing centres in Asia.

The annual Global Energy Prize – which he will share with Russian scientist Sergey Alekseenko – honours outstanding achievements in research and technology that are addressing the world’s pressing energy challenges.

ARENA has been proud to fund some of Professor Martin Greens’ groundbreaking work, most recently awarding his University of New South Wales research unit $16.4 million when they took out 11 of the 20 successful projects in last year’s solar research funding round.

One of these projects is attempting to find a new form of adamantine compound that can be overlaid on top of silicon solar cells to create a more efficient cell. Professor Green is optimistic that the resulting “tandem cells” can break through the barrier of 25 per cent efficiency that limits most current cells.

Going back to 1989, Professor Greens’ team supplied the solar cells for the first photovoltaic system with an energy conversion efficiency of 20%. And in 2014, he headed the development team that first demonstrated the conversion of sunlight into electricity with an energy conversion efficiency of 40%.

Speaking at last year’s ARENA’s Innovating Energy Summit, Green told the audience that constructing one terrawatt of solar PV offers the best chance to keep global temperature rises below the 2 degrees pledged in the Paris climate accord.

Responding to the news that he had come out on top of the ten finalists – including Tesla founder Elon Musk – in the Global Energy Award, Professor Green said he was proud to receive the prize given the quality of candidates in the field.

“The efficiency of solar modules is an area whose progress has been faster than many experts expected, and this is good news.”

“We need to maintain the pace of research in Australia, not only to keep our international lead, but also to benefit society by providing a cheap, low carbon source of electricity,” he said.

Over his career Professor Green has received many scientific and industry awards. In 2003 he was awarded the Karl Boer Solar Energy Medal of Merit, and in 2004 he received the World Technology Award in the field of energy. He holds many patents and has authored eight books, as well as more than 750 publications.

Professor Green will be presented with the award in Russia in October.

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Monash University Building Integrated PV Study

Funding boost for world-leading solar PV research

On behalf of the Australian Government, the Australian Renewable Energy Agency (ARENA) today announced it has awarded $29.2 million for 20 research projects to propel the development of solar photovoltaic (PV) technology.

The funding has been offered to research teams from the University of New South Wales, Australian National University, Monash University and the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation (CSIRO).

ARENA’s third round of R&D funding supports early-stage research to reduce the cost and improve the efficiency of solar PV, from creating flexible solar devices to making semi-transparent, high-efficiency solar cells for integrating into windows.

Most of the projects will focus on silicon technologies, as the vast majority of solar panels worldwide are currently made using silicon. Some projects will aim to develop solar cells using new materials, such as organic photovoltaics and perovskites, which would be lower cost to manufacture, printable or more sustainable.

Together with contributions from industry partners and leading institutions from Asia, Europe and the United States, total value of the projects is approximately $102 million.

ARENA CEO Ivor Frischknecht said Australian innovation was already built into many silicon solar panels made globally, and this funding would accelerate solar PV technology.

“Australia is leading the world in solar PV research and development. Over the past five years, ARENA has funded breakthroughs which have helped make solar PV competitive with wind power and we want to take that even further.

“In this funding round, the candidates and the calibre was so high, we actually increased the total funding we awarded to nearly $30 million,” Mr Frischknecht said.

“This research will improve the technological and commercial readiness of new innovation in solar PV cells and modules, enhance Australia’s position as world-leaders in solar PV R&D and address Australian-specific conditions,” he said.

ARENA media contact:

0410 724 227 | media@arena.gov.au

Download this media release (PDF 147KB)

How Aussie solar could power a new space race

Picture a world where satellites and self-navigating planes beam high-speed wireless internet to people from Adelaide to the Arctic, all of it powered by Australian solar technology.

That vision might not be too far from reality thanks to a group of solar-cell specialists from the University of NSW (UNSW).

Supported by ARENA and led by world-renowned photovoltaics researcher Professor Allen Barnett, the team has created a lightweight, flexible and incredibly efficient solar cell that is perfect for high-altitude applications.

Professor Barnett and his team. IMAGE: UNSW.

 

THE LIMITATIONS OF SILICON

Most solar cells are made of silicon, which has become cheap and readily available. But it has some limits when it comes to efficiency.

Sunlight is made up of light particles (photons) with a wide range of wavelengths. The shorter a photon’s wavelength, the more energy it contains, and the higher a voltage it can produce when converted into electricity.  

However, silicon cells convert all photons to electricity at the same voltage. They can’t harness the energy contained in the low-wavelength, high-energy photons, which is one of the reasons why even the best silicon solar cells have been stuck at around 25 per cent efficiency for the past 20 years.

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UNSW overcame this limitation by layering two extremely thin solar cells on top of each other. The bottom cell is a silicon alloy, while the top cell is made from Gallium-Arsenide-Phosphide (GaAsP).

The chemical properties of GaAsP let it capture the high-energy photons while letting the low-energy ones pass through to the silicon alloy layer. This dual-layer approach means that GaAsP solar cells could be up to 40 per cent more efficient than the best silicon cells in use today.

GaAsP solar cells could be up to 40 per cent more efficient than the best silicon cells in use today. IMAGE: UNSW.

SPACING OUT

The downside of GaAsP cells? They’re still not as cheap as the silicon ones. And there isn’t much incentive for the makers of rooftop systems and solar farms to fork out for ultra-efficient cells when they could just add more panels. (However, Professor Barnett has calculated that GaAsP may be cost-effective for solar plants with sun-tracking technology, like the Moree Solar Farm.)

Of course there are some places where low weight, high efficiency solar panels are worth paying a premium for.

Like space.

“Most satellites today are owned by telecommunications or the military, who don’t care about the cost of solar cells.” Professor Barnett says. “But the new applications that are coming are commercial.”

Virgin, Airbus and SpaceX are just some of the companies looking at using swarms of low-orbit satellites for high-speed communications. Other tech firms – including Facebook and Google – want high-altitude, long-endurance unmanned aerial vehicles (drones) to deliver wireless internet to virtually any point on Earth.

All of these projects need solar cells that are extremely efficient, ultra-light and resistant to radiation from outer space.

“We can do a fifth of the cost and a fifth of the weight of the military stuff.” Professor Barnett says. “Our designs are also radiation-hard and flexible enough to be built into a curved airframe.”

HOW TO GROW A SOLAR CELL

There are a couple of ways to make a multi-layer solar cell. “One is to just take two solar cells and glue them together, but that costs too much,” says Professor Barnett. “The other way is to grow them.”

That might conjure up images of farmers carefully nurturing fields of photovoltaic cells from seed, but growing a GaAsP cell is actually closer to baking than gardening.

A base layer of silicon is placed inside a vacuum-sealed reactor, which is heated up to 900ºC and filled with a vapour. This causes a chemical reaction that ‘grows’ incredibly thin layers of crystalline silicon alloy on the base. Layers of GaAsP are grown on top of the alloy using a different vapour before the pure silicon base layer is chemically removed.

The process takes less than five minutes and creates layers about 1/50 the width of a human hair, making GaAsP cells significantly thinner and lighter than a comparable silicon cell.

It’s also the same process used to make LEDs, meaning that manufacturing costs could be kept down by using existing tools and production lines.

A researcher at work in the UNSW lab. IMAGE: UNSW.

COUNTDOWN TO LIFTOFF

The team has a few more steps to complete before GaAsP cells will be powering Facebook-branded drones or satellites.

“We have to get third-party validation of the efficiency and then we have to use these LED tools to get the cost of growing them down.” Professor Barnett says. “We’re still three to five years away.”

But the potential is definitely there: the UNSW team has already had private talks with a number of companies and estimates that the market for satellite and plane-based solar cells will be worth $700 million a year by 2025.

“In that range of efficiency, we are by far the lowest cost and the lowest weight.” says Professor Barnett. “We are the absolute leaders in this space today.”

Read the full knowledge sharing report from this completed ARENA project HERE.

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‘It’s gunna get big’: the story of a new solar farm and the people behind its rise.

“It’s gunna get big.”

With those words Parkes local Sam Hawker hits on something that is true of both the solar farm he is helping to construct as well as the industry and technology it represents.

Something has happened in Parkes that has changed more than just the energy mix being created and consumed. It has changed the town itself.

“I’m a third generation farmer in the Parkes district,” says Ken Keith, the local Mayor and a landowner who adjoins the solar farm with his sheep property. “I’m sure my grandfather would never have thought that he would have a solar farm next to him.”

Sam Hawker at the Parkes Solar Farm where he works. IMAGE: ARENA.

These characters and the stories of many others living and working around them are captured in A Quiet Evolution, a mini documentary produced for ARENA by filmmaker Steve Doyle.

The film chronicles the birth of the Parkes Solar Farm, a 55 MW photovoltaic facility which features approximately 206,000 solar panels on 210 hectares near the NSW regional city.

It will soon be producing enough electricity to power 21,000 homes.

Parkes is one of 12 similar projects funded by ARENA’s Large Scale Solar funding round. The plant will use solar PV panels mounted on a tracking system that shifts the angle of the panels to follow the sun.

And that allows the maximum amount of sunlight to be captured by the solar panels for conversion into electricity.

Rows of solar panels greet the sun at the Parkes Solar Farm. IMAGE: ARENA

ARENA contributed almost $7 million to the $114 million cost of the project.

Filmmaker Doyle was hired by ARENA to spend some time in Parkes and tell the story of what happens in a regional community when large scale solar comes to town.

For one thing: jobs (around 120 of them). At the time of the company’s most recent report 57,378 hours of work had been poured into transforming the site into a solar farm.

Telling that story took time. Doyle prepared, researched, interviewed and shot the film over a two month period, interviewing local residents, workers on the project and representatives of the large companies behind it.

In total he captured almost eight hours of footage, distilling that into ten minute and three minute long films.

Tory Moon works on the farm and is Parkes “born and bred”. IMAGE: ARENA.

“The video captures the emergence of the Large Scale Solar industry into a maturity that will sustain it for the next 30 years & beyond,” he says.

“I loved the opportunity to tell the story of that emergence through the words & feelings of a range of people working on the site.”

A Quiet Evolution, introduces characters such as Tory Moon, a Parkes local “born and bred” who has risen to lead a team engaged in constructing the solar farm.

The film speaks to a number of people employed in the installation of the facility, which is owned and will be run by Neoen, an independent power producer that develops, finances, builds and operates renewable energy facilities.

The 12 large scale solar farms being supported by ARENA will increase the nation’s experience in planning and building renewable power plants, help to make such projects more commercial and also boost their attractiveness for private investors.

As the 12 projects near completion it is clear that they have played a massive role in transforming not just renewable energy but the communities in which they are situated.

Row upon row of gleaming panels have now been installed and the farm will soon be supplying clean, renewable energy. “It’s gunna get big,”  Sam Hawker predicted.

There can’t be much doubt he was right.

$20 million funding for solar PV’s next great leap forward

The Australian Renewable Energy Agency (ARENA) has announced a $20 million funding round to propel solar photovoltaic (PV) research and development.

ARENA’s third competitive research and development funding round seeks to drive innovation to make solar PV more affordable, more efficient and more competitive.

ARENA Chief Executive Officer Ivor Frischknecht said this would help reduce the future cost of solar PV. “This dedicated research and development funding for solar PV is part of our commitment to finding and supporting further breakthroughs in solar PV,” he said.

“Australia has some of the best solar PV researchers in the world, and we want to build what we’ve already accomplished. This leverage the impressive gains already made in cost reduction and cell efficiency. And that is just the beginning. We see a future where solar cells might be on every surface,” he said.

Since 2012, ARENA has committed $109.3 million in funding to solar PV R&D projects, fellowships and scholarships. ARENA funding has helped to break 14 solar efficiency world records.

Earlier this month,ARENA launched its Investment Plan, which sets out accelerating solar PV innovation as one of the top priorities for the coming years.

“By continuing to support innovation in solar PV, we believe that solar power could produce more than 30 per cent of Australia’s electricity within 15 years,” Mr Frischknecht said.

The funding round will be open to Australian solar PV researchers undertaking projects focussed on emerging and established solar PV cell and modules technologies. ARENA expects to award grants of between $500,000 and $5 million for any single project.

“We are calling for research projects that demonstrate the potential to lower the cost of

materials or improve performance that will reduce costs or increase efficiency,” he said.

The funding round will open from 24 May 2017 until 21 June 2017. Funding guidelines will be available from ARENA’s website on 24 May 2017. Information sessions will be held in Canberra, Sydney and Melbourne in early June 2017.

ARENA media contacts:

ARENA Media | Mobile: 0410 724 227 | Email: media@arena.gov.au

Media release – ARENA SOLAR PV RD ROUND (PDF 121KB)

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Solar Insights

Driving down the cost of new renewable energy is a big part of why ARENA exists – hence, the importance of understanding the cost components of applications to our recent large-scale solar funding round.

Applicants told us how much it would cost to build their facilities – the capital cost of their plant (the other half of the ‘costs’ story is the operational cost, which we’ll examine in a follow-up post).

Given the relative infancy of the large-scale solar industry in Australia, estimations of capital costs are a valuable insight into the rapid changes flowing through the Australian large-scale solar industry. We’ve discovered some fascinating insights into some flagship projects in this industry, which we’re sharing below and as a downloadable dataset at the end of this post, as part of our knowledge sharing mandate.

A recent article (subscription required) in the Australian Financial Review examines capital costs, with analysts stating that:

“The costs (of the latest large-scale solar farms) are half of what the the capital intensity was of the ones that are on stream and were built over 2015 and 2016. It’s a huge step forward for the industry and for the future of solar in Australia.”

It’s an important piece of data – how much do you need to pay to build new large-scale solar, and what does that tell us about the rate of growth of the industry? Below, we’ve presented a chart showing the total capital cost, per DC watt, for each of the twenty final-stage applicants (twelve of these were chosen as winners), with project names anonymised:

The average cost of building these new large-scale solar farms is $1.8 cents per DC watt, with an average of $1.74 for fixed-axis projects and an average of 1.83 cents per DC watt for facilities that feature panels that track the sun’s movement. This isn’t surprising – more movements parts are likely to be more expensive than inanimate frames.

Digging further into this dataset, the chart below shows capital costs split up by state, with states featuring two or less projects (WA, Vic and SA) summarised as ‘OTHER’, to preserve anonymity:

Though there isn’t much drama in the averages between the states, the range tells a different story – the minimum and maximum capital costs from the 4 projects in WA, Vic and QLD reflect the varied conditions in the geographically disparate states. Queensland and New South Wales, both with further-advanced large-scale solar industries and 8 projects each, sit within tighter parameters.

There’s an alternative and somewhat flawed way of examining this vital piece of information – using the costs attributed to ‘Engineering, Procurement and Construction’ (EPC) contracts. We ultimately decided against this, as some of the project applicants can perform these functions themselves, and as such, the costs of building the large-scale solar farms can be ‘hidden’. To illustrate this underestimation effect, a comparison of the two:

First Solar published a report using the National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL) ‘Open PV’ data set, and other solar studies from the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory (LBNL). They found that in May 2014, large-scale solar projects in the US were seeing an average of $3.17 $USD per DC watt ($4.23 AUD). The analytics firm quoted in the Financial Review article above estimates $1.79 per DC watt and $1.57 per DC watt for two different Australian solar farms – which fall in the range of our data. Though the US and Australian large-scale solar industries are very different, this gives us an idea of how costs might fall when the Australian large-scale solar market reaches the maturity seen in the US.

As we’ve seen in previous knowledge-sharing posts on our blog, costs are going down for other parts of the process of building big solar, such as connecting to the grid. The fundamental nature of paying for the machine that generates clean, sustainable energy remains an important watermark for changes that flow through a nascent, growing industry.

You can download the anonymised data set used to generate these charts here (XLSX 10KB)

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By Matthew Walden and Ketan Joshi

 

Ketan is ARENA’s Knowledge Sharing Champion within the Strategic communications team, with six years’ experience in data analysis and communications in the renewable energy industry.

Black and Green

Sunlight may be free, but the process of turning it into electricity costs money. The good news – for developers and end users – is that upfront capital costs (for construction and equipment) are going down.

In March 2016, ARENA released data from the ‘expressions of interest’ (EOI) stage of the Large Scale Solar competitive round, which featured 77 projects. This data showed that costs of large-scale solar (measured in terms of levelised cost of energy or LCOE) were coming down, in the range of $110 to $120 per MWh1.

This range is what renewable energy developers are forecasting it will cost them to build and operate the farms. What about the other side of the equation – the revenue?

Like existing thermal power stations in the national electricity market (NEM), clean energy power stations sell electricity generated to cover their upfront costs of finance, construction and operation. These sources of revenue come from two related, but separate, markets:

  • The ‘black price’ for each megawatt hour (MWh) generated and sold into the electricity market.
  • The ‘green price’, for large-scale generation certificates (LGCs) – for each megawatt hour (MWh) of generation accredited under the Federal Government’s Renewable Energy Target scheme. Revenue from this market has most commonly been arranged via a contract with retailers (who are required to buy a certain number of these each year).

Solar farms can sell both their ‘black’ and ‘green’ revenue to an electricity retailer under a bundled long-term contract known as a Power Purchase Agreement (PPA).

Alternatively, these power stations can take on market (or ‘merchant’) risk and operate without a long term contract. This is where electricity price forecasting slots into project planning and costing up. Building an investment case for “going merchant” involves long term forecasting of black and green prices, over the operational life of that big solar farm.

We’ve charted the electricity and LGC price forecasts below supplied by the final twenty applicants to the funding round – showing the range (from minimum to maximum), the average and the mid-point. (Chart values are in $/MWh.)

Download the anonymised data set used to generate these charts here (XLSX 22KB)

The average black price over the fifteen year period shown above is $43/MWh, and the average green price is $64/MWh. But these averages don’t tell you the full story of the uncertainties in this vital component of large-scale solar construction. By the year 2030, LGC price ranges from $0/MWh to $65/MWh – demonstrating the range of views at play.

ARENA’s Business Development team assessed these data sets during the process of selecting successful applicants during the large-scale solar competitive round. Matt Walden, an Investment Director at ARENA, said “The Competitive Round process allowed us to see various approaches to electricity and LGC price forecasts and it was evident that applicants prepared their forward price curves using different assumptions and inputs. These differences resulted in diverse impacts over the terms forecast.”

What our team also noticed is that, as a group, large-scale solar developers appear more confident about their forecasts of revenue from merchant electricity prices than they are about revenue for LGCs. This is not a big surprise as historic LGC prices have been on a wild and volatile ride over the past few years, so predicting a realistic price based on history or expectations about the future is more art than science. Our large-scale solar developers are mindful that selling the output of a new renewable energy facility over the lifetime of operation can come with many specific considerations.

Though you’ll see a fair amount of discussion around the important issue of the costs of building and running a big new solar farm, developers are keen to ensure they can rely on predictable prices well into the future. With more sharing of knowledge around this and other aspects, we aim to ensure the the industry is well equipped to buttress the hazards of seeking certainty when looking into the future.

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By Ketan Joshi

 

Ketan is ARENA’s Knowledge Sharing Champion within the Strategic communications team, with six years’ experience in data analysis and communications in the renewable energy industry.

ARENA’s big solar push sees first project signing

The first funding agreement in the Australian’s Renewable Energy Agency’s ground-breaking program to drive down the cost and accelerate the rollout of big solar has been signed today.

The new agreement commits up to $8.9 million of ARENA funding towards Genex’s $126 million Kidston Solar Project in North Queensland.

ARENA CEO Ivor Frischknecht said the Kidston project was a key component in ARENA’s push to triple Australia’s large-scale solar capacity by supporting 12 new solar farms.

“ARENA’s unprecedented investment in large-scale solar is expected to unlock almost $1 billion in commercial investment that will mostly be spent in regional Australian economies,” Mr Frischknecht said.

“Nationally, the six plants in Queensland, five in New South Wales and one in Western Australia will be a huge boost to regional areas with the expected creation of around 2,300 direct jobs and thousands more indirect jobs.”

The other 11 large scale solar projects are currently working towards signing ARENA agreements, locking in finance and lining up construction contracts in order to reach financial close early next year.

The signing of the Kidston funding agreement comes a month after Genex completed a study which found the construction of a pumped storage facility operating alongside the solar farm was technically feasible.

“This opens up the potential to create Australia’s first big solar plant capable of delivering renewable energy into the grid around the clock,” Mr Frischknecht said.

“The runs on the board for large-scale solar demonstrate the ARENA effect in transitioning Australia to a reliable and affordable renewable energy future.

“One example is falling local costs, which represent a large portion of overall costs. ARENA support and knowledge sharing activities have slashed the locally determined costs of developing and building plants by more than half in the last three years.

Construction is expected to start soon at the Kidston Solar Project. EPC contractor UGL is on track to complete construction towards the end of 2017.  The company has also received credit approval from its debt syndicate for a debt facility of up to $110 million towards construction.

Genex Managing Director Michael Addison said starting the site works was a significant milestone.

“Genex’s Kidston Solar project benefits from one of the best solar resources in Australia and we will now work closely with UGL to commission the project in 2017. Genex acknowledges the support of ARENA and the Queensland Government.”

About Genex Power Limited

Genex Power is a power generation development company listed on the ASX. The Company is focussed on innovative clean energy generation and electricity storage solutions which deliver attractive commercial returns for shareholders. Genex is currently pursuing a number of unique energy development opportunities across Australia.

The Company’s current focus is on the development of its 250MW Kidston hydroelectric pumped storage generation project and its 50MW solar PV project located at the Kidston Energy Hub located in Northern Queensland.

Media Contact:

James Webber – 0410 028 899