Blueprint for building best practice large-scale solar

The Merredin solar farm in Western Australia is a stunning array of 360,000 monocrystalline panels constructed across a 460-hectare area in the state’s central wheatbelt region.

With a nameplate capacity of 100MW, the project is the largest solar farm in WA and sits just inside Australia’s top 20 largest solar farms.

While not the biggest in the country, its exceptional performance for 2021 earned it the title of Australia’s top performing PV asset, based on analysis by independent research firm Rystad Energy.

This recognition is a significant feather in the cap of the farm’s developer Risen Energy Australia (REA), while simultaneously proving the performance of the farm’s panels – supplied by REA’s parent company, the publicly listed Chinese solar PV module manufacturer Risen Energy Co., Ltd.

Utility-scale solar success

REA is providing a unique vertically integrated utility-scale service offering in the Australian market. It funds, designs, constructs and supplies its own panels and performs operational capabilities.

Merredin is the second utility-scale project REA has funded and developed. In early 2020, it connected its first project, the Yarranlea solar farm in Queensland.

Having streamlined its development process through the Yarranlea experience, REA in collaboration with WA’s Monford Group achieved mechanical completion of Merredin in just three months. It became one of the fastest builds of a large-scale solar farm in Australia.

Merredin rapidly ramped up to 100% generation capacity with an annual electricity output of 274 GWh (enough to power 42,000 Australian homes), and has been exporting at full capacity to the South West Interconnected System (SWIS) since August 2020.

In March 2021, REA cemented a 10-year PPA with BHP to supply up to 50% of electricity needs at BHP’s Nickel West Kwinana refinery. In August, this PPA was expanded from 20MW to 50MW of electricity to BHP’s Nickel West operations. The additional 30MW is directed to BHP Nickel West’s Kalgoorlie Smelter and will reduce the smelters Scope 2 emissions by 30%.

All in all, REA’s development of Merredin has been a huge success and a blueprint for best practice solar farm development, gaining praise from all stakeholder groups and positioning the company as a desirable partner/developer of large-scale solar.  

Having proven its development model, REA sold the asset to Singaporean PV utility SUN Energy in October 2021 but will maintain close ties as it deploys up to 20 MW/40 MWh of battery energy storage to the solar farm.

REA’s rise to fame

REA opened its first office in Melbourne in 2014 with an objective to become the partner of choice for utility scale solar and the supplier of choice to the skyrocketing rooftop solar market. Since then, it has been quietly staking its claim in both sectors.

Its success at Merredin has put Risen firmly in the spotlight as a best-in-class developer and its performance in the rooftop market has not gone unnoticed either.

For three consecutive years, Risen has been recognised as a “Top PV Brand in Australia” by the European authoritative research institute, EuPD Research.

EuPD gathers data from both installers and end-users to determine solar brands’ reputations in their local market.

The business has made a significant effort to establish a robust local team which now stands at 40 personnel who pride themselves on their technical expertise and local insight. And it’s clearly paying off.

Quality-driven performance

Risen’s management systems globally are certified to the ISO 45001 health and safety standard, the ISO 9001 quality management standard and the ISO 14001 environmental management standard.

Developing panels built to withstand the Australian environment is part of the company’s commitment to upholding the highest quality standards and optimising performance of commercial assets and residential end-users.

This is particularly important in Australia where harsh weather conditions and dust can cause panel damage and power loss. Risen’s products are Certified PID-free, meaning that the panel is guaranteed to withstand the effects of corrosive elements like ammonia (NH3), hydrogen sulfide (HS) and sulfur dioxide (SO2) throughout its lifetime.

With excellent module efficiency, positive power tolerance and very low temperature coefficients, the panels tick all the boxes and achieved independent recognition from PVEL’s 2021 PV Module Reliability Scorecard which names manufacturers that achieved top-performing test results in PVEL’s Product Qualification Program.

Sustainability standing

REA and its parent company are also taking sustainability and corporate responsibility seriously.

Risen solar farms are held to high social and environmental standards. Management systems ensure there is no material leaching, any panels that reach end of life are recycled and the proper rehabilitation of the solar farm site is undertaken at end of life to minimise the environmental footprint.

REA is currently participating in a solar panel upcycling study with Elecsome and its research partners, RMIT and the University of Melbourne. Elecsome is an Australian company specialising in photovoltaic upcycling services. Its innovative recycling process turns solar panels into value-added materials by eliminating the cost of safely disposing of end-of-life solar panels.

REA is also in discussions with Elecsome to improve its current solar waste management processes.

Further, REA focuses on sourcing local staff and subcontractors as much as possible to maximise the benefits a solar farm can bring to local communities.

At the corporate level, Risen’s ongoing quest to improve manufacturing processes and supply chains, has seen the company focus on reducing the embodied energy of its panels. In November 2021, it released a new solar panel with an alloy steel frame instead of the traditional aluminium. By using coated alloyed steel, Risen can produce modules using less energy due to the high energy consumption in the production of aluminium.

Additionally, Risen is taking steps to identify and understand the risks of modern slavery across its global operations and supply chains, and the company has committed to the continuous evaluation of its sustainability practices on a yearly basis.

Delivering the goods

Backed by its extremely well-resourced parent company which includes a huge R&D team – among the largest of all solar module manufacturers – and advanced fully automated manufacturing facilities, the Australian team know they can deliver on their objectives. And they’re proving it on every front.

Commenting recently on the exemplary performance of Merredin, REA’s CEO Archie Chen summed it up: “This is just the start for us.”

“We look forward to delivering more high-performance panels and developing similar high performing assets to the Australian market.”

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