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2017, Planet Ark Power – A Year in Review

Posted by: Planet Ark Power
Category: A Year in Review
Gold Coast Aquatic Centre Commonwealth Games 2018

Gold Coast Aquatic Center

  • Start date: September 2017
  • Completion date: December 2017
  • System size: 1134 solar panels, 312kW

Gold Coast Aquatic Centre

Operated by the Gold Coast City Council, the Gold Coast Aquatic Centre is a world-class swimming, diving and recreation venue just 5 kilometres north of the famous Surfers Paradise. Like any other large sporting facility it faces considerable power bills.

As the second most populous Local Government Council in the country, the City of Gold Coast Council must be careful how it spends its annual budget across numerous infrastructure programs. Making savings anywhere goes a long way – including on power bills.

Gold Coast Mayor Tom Tate is on record saying that the Council’s annual electricity expenditure has nearly doubled in the past decade.

“We need to reduce our reliance on the current system by investing in alternative energy sources,” Mayor Tate says.

That’s why the council put out for tenders for solar power to the Aquatic Centre in June 2017. Planet Ark Power was successful and got to work planning a system that, at 312kW, would be its biggest single installation to date.

The huge scale of the power system is warranted. Planet Ark Power National Operations Manager Martin Hoelscher explains that running the facility requires a huge amount of energy.

“The majority of the power is used for pool heating, and the centre also has a large air-conditioning system for its office blocks and gymnasium. The pumps and pool filtration also come into it,” Martin says.

Even so, from the date it was put into commission just before Christmas of 2017, the solar power system was cash flow positive.

“The biggest design challenge were the lighting masts which cause shading and reduced output for certain panels. We opted to install panels with an integrated optimiser that lets us maintain the optimum amount of solar generation.”

With projected reductions in operating costs of $100,000 per year, the Gold Coast Aquatic Centre solar power project is proof of Planet Ark Power’s capabilities.

The design and installation was carried out under heavy regulatory scrutiny and time pressure on a venue that would soon host a world-class event.

“When we won the tender, the council was more than impressed with our level of detail with our engineering design. During the construction, they were just as impressed with the quality from our installation partners, Service Stream. And part of that is because the pool continued to operate as normal right through construction,” Martin says.

McNamee Lemontree Feedlot

  • Start date: December 2017
  • Completion date: January 2018
  • System size: 950 panels

McNamee Lemontree Feedlot

Since early this year the McNamee Partner’s Lemontree Feedlot in Milmerran, on the Darling Downs, has been enjoying lower power bills through relying on a large solar system installed by Planet Ark Power.

One of the top 10 feedlots in Queensland’s giant cattle industry, Lemontree is a beef and dairy feeding facility situated on a wide plain 200km west of Brisbane. Planet Ark Power Business Development Manager Tom McVerry said the Lemontree project presented several challenges.

“Because of the way the livestock industry works, Lemontree has a pretty large peak energy use quite early in the morning and another peak late in the afternoon. Peak energy use around dawn is not an ideal match for solar power, of course, but the afternoon peak is a better match,” Tom says.

The business also has a large and consistent 24-hour baseload: grain is mixed, milk is refrigerated, silos must stay online and so on. The solar system’s main role is to offset this. Unfortunately, energy storage just doesn’t suit Lemontree Feedlot yet. However, as the price comes down, it may be on the radar.

Through developing a strong relationship with McNamee Partners, Tom found a group of business-minded primary-producers who have a deep appreciation of the role technical solutions have in optimising their operations.

“When you talk to farmers in technical terms, they just get it,” Tom says.

“Even talking to McNamee Partners about the structures of their roof and the intricacies of their electrical set up they understood the concepts immediately. The company is very aware of its operations and they have their finger on the pulse.

“I find the agriculture sector is really a leader in this area. They want to take things on and they are open to innovation. All we had to do was show them what we can do and show them proof.”

Tom says every installation presents its own challenges and Lemontree Feedlot was no different. In this case it was all the dust from 15,000 sets of hooves and a fair bit of machinery movement.

He says Planet Ark Power’s high-tech monitoring equipment can automatically detect when the solar array is not making as much energy as it should, for example, being located in a dusty area, layers of dust can coat the solar panels and block the sunlight. However, the solution to his problem is not high-tech.

“Someone has to go up there to clean the solar panels with a tool similar to a large mop and there are 950 panels to do,” Tom says.

Other installation concerns involved operating construction machinery around livestock and reinforcements to several roof supports. All of this was professionally planned for and managed throughout the construction process.

“McNamee’s goal was simply to reduce grid energy demand. The integration of cleaner energy, while certainly a factor, was not a huge motivation,” Tom says.

“Installing a solar system at Lemontree was purely a financial decision for the business. They put it under a no upfront payment lease whereby the savings on energy costs from the system less the lease payments is cashflow positive from day one, and they will acquire ownership of the the system over the lease term. So in this case after year seven, the lease ends and they have another 15 to 20 years of essentially free energy.

That is the beauty of solar, once the fixed cost of the system is paid for there is zero marginal cost to creating electricity – the sun doesn’t cost a cent!”

“The result is they get electricity price and supply security for the next 20 to 25 years. They are not at so much risk of large energy price increases.”

The Lemontree Feedlot solar system was Planet Ark Power’s first large system in the agricultural sector. Tom points out that solar has become a major trend in the ag sector: farmers are highly motivated to address rising energy costs with solutions that reduce their reliance on the grid and make their businesses more cost competitive.

“As electricity is largest operating cost after wages, it will mean the savings translating into lower priced end product making their business more successful.”

Group Linen Services

  • Start date: March 2018
  • Completion date: September 2018 (projected)
  • System size: 480 panels, 160kW

On 13 March 2018, Planet Ark Power was awarded the contract to install solar power systems for the three locations of Group Linen Services (GLS), a Queensland Government-owned commercial laundry. The first system is to be installed on the roof of the GLS facility at Maryborough, 260 kilometres north of Brisbane.

This laundry washes bulk linens and other items for the facilities of Queensland Health and other government departments. With the laundry only operating during daylight hours, it is a great match for solar.

Planet Ark Power business development manager Will Waters says the business was spending around $21,000 every month for energy – about 10% of its total operating costs. That has now been slashed – without costing the business a cent.

“We have about 480 solar panels there, which is roughly the equivalent of 35 houses” Will says.

With $43,000 in expected annual savings, the power system will pay for itself in around 4 years andis expected to operate until at least 2043.

The roots of the whole project stretch back to a government tender put out in January 2018. The tender was let in March 2018 and Planet Ark Power was given the nod.

“We have been going through the process of design and organising materials and getting the local power company approvals,” Will says.

“Construction in Maryborough should start at the end of June and should be complete by September.”

The overall tender covers three separate sites (in order of planned construction):

  1. Wide Bay Hospital, Maryborough – 160kW
  2. Prince Charles Hospital, Northern Brisbane – 330kW
  3. Princess Alexandra Hospital, Southern Brisbane – 330kW

Between them, the three facilities produce more than 330 tonnes of clean linen each week.

Will says fulfilling the GLS tender will demonstrate Planet Ark Power’s ability to work with the government on large projects. Even so, GLS is a business and has a highly commercial approach.

So, as well as Planet Ark Power’s technical ability, price was a factor. Further, because of Ergon requirements in the Wide Bay, the Maryborough system must limit any excess power exports to the grid to just 30kW.

“That requires some smart technology to throttle back the amount of energy generated by the solar system, and that sort of engineering solution is what we pride ourselves on,” Will says.

Bruce Saunders, the State Member for Maryborough, said the solar power system is just one of a range of energy-saving initiatives across the Group Linen Services locations.

“It’s great to see another Maryborough business install solar panels and do their part to be more energy efficient,” Saunders says.

Llewellyn Motors

  • Start date: December 2017
  • Completion date: January 2018
  • System size: 1232 panels, 332 kW, including 12 Schneider Electric Inverters and a 96 kwh Elevare Energy Smart Battery

Want to understand how fast the solar industry is developing? Let this fact sink in: Australia’s largest privately owned solar and smart battery rooftop power station is a suburban car dealership. But don’t suspect it’s not a massive piece of energy infrastructure. And it was cash flow positive from day one.

You’ll find the 1232 solar panel system on the roof of Llewellyn Motors, a large Holden, Toyota, Hyundai and Subaru dealer based in Ipswich, west of Brisbane.

As one of the showcase dealerships in South East Queensland, it is an industry leader constantly trying new things – and since December 2017 it has been leading the way on commercial solar power.

Planet Ark Power is who they turned to to get their solar answers. Business Development Manager Tom McVerry says while the record-setting size of the installation was significant for Planet Ark Power, there is far more to the Llewellyn Motors story than size.

“It was also a complex installation over multiple buildings, each with a completely different type of roof. All this was going on while the dealership was still selling cars. We were in there during full operations,” Tom says.

“Ideally, we wanted to install at the end of financial year, but that is their peak time and had to work around that. We negotiated all those challenges and delivered on time.”

Of course, such a large undertaking involved a lot of planning. In the first step, Planet Ark Power analysed Llewellyn Motors’ usage and load. Tom says the dealership uses a lot of power through lighting and air-conditioning for multiple large showrooms, not to mention all the computers, workshops and service areas.

“We found all their peaks were happening throughout the working day – that’s perfect for solar. They also operate 6 days a week and consume almost all they are producing,” Tom says.

On Sundays, when the dealership is closed, Planet Ark Power’s cutting-edge system called dSTATCOM is being installed to manage the voltage interaction between the solar system and the grid, thus enabling the excess solar to be exported and soldon the grid. The financial aspect was so crucial to Llewellyn Motors’ decision to go solar, so this sort of benefit is vital.

“It was cash flow positive from day one. Llewellyn Motors have their system under an operating lease and after 5 years they will own it outright,” Tom says.

The sums work out that the solar power station will save the dealership $2 million on projected energy bills over 20 years. The power station is also expected to reduce the dealership’s carbon footprint by 8,400 tonnes. Roughly the same volume of emissions as produced by 280 cars over their entire driving lifespan!

The Llewellyn Motors’ solar power station is also something of a milestone for Planet Ark Power because it is a real-world demonstration of two exciting technologies.

First, as you’ve already read, is the dSTATCOM technology that allows for commercial solar sites to export to the grid and thereby monetising solar energy that would otherwise be curtailed through the grid operator not allowing export. This significantly increases the ROI on the solar system. DNSPs in Australia generally do not allow large commercial systems to export solar power to the grid because this can cause voltage fluctuations on the network – something they must maintain between specified levels. The dSTATCOM is a regulator of sorts that maintains the solar power being exported at the required voltage levels.

Second, is a smart battery developed in house by Planet Ark Power’s R&D sister company Elevare Energy. It is able to store a portion of the unused power and is then able to determine the optimal time to sell this energy into the grid – such as during peak demand.

The two technologies combine by monitoring the dealer’s power use, the grid demand and then scaling the site’s power exports to match. And it is both of these technologies that make the Llewellyn Motors’ project such an indication of things to come.

“If you have a roof and you don’t have solar you’re wasting an opportunity. Just about every commercial site should have integration of solarsas in many cases now solar is much cheaper than the power you are buying from the grid, and once the system is paid for the input costs from the sun are zero – there aren’t any other infrastructure investments that businesses could make that have these magical returns and price security. That’s the beauty of renewables and solar especially.” Tom says.

“Integration of solar is cheaper than the grid now. The economics speak for themselves.”