MPower and Broadspectrum are ushering in the future of utility-scale solar in Australia, writes Jeremy Foster.

Something as simple as a cloudy sky can spell trouble for solar power systems, introducing uncertainty into the energy network. This can be inconvenient in a residential setting, but it poses a much higher risk to critical infrastructure like airports.

That’s the challenge MPower looked to address in Western Australia with the 1MW solar farm at Karratha Airport – keeping all systems operational, even when the weather didn’t want to cooperate. The solution is a battery storage system featuring advanced cloud prediction technology that tracks cloud cover, maximising the performance of the solar power system while minimising fluctuations to the grid.

The project, incorporating MPower’s grid stability system and funded by the Australian Renewable Energy Agency (ARENA), was one of the first commercial applications of this cloud prediction technology in the country.

For years, MPower has been on the cutting edge of leveraging emerging technologies to support renewable energy projects. Now, through a newly established consortium with Broadspectrum, MPower is looking to apply that expertise on a much larger scale.

Preparing for Australia’s solar future

In February MPower and Broadspectrum announced the formation of a consortium charged with tackling large-scale solar projects in Australia. Both organisations bring their strengths to this endeavour, with Broadspectrum – an asset management and integrated solutions provider with over six decades of experience and a presence across Australia – taking charge on construction activities. MPower is leveraging expertise with innovative renewable technologies for engineering and design.

“We’re bringing that skill set and experience to the consortium based on the projects we’ve done before, and Broadspectrum – because of its size – is bringing the extra grunt required to actually build, finance and commercially manage those large capital projects,” says MPower head of renewables John McCudden.

“Essentially, we are combining two quite different strengths – adding one plus one to get three instead of two.”

The consortium was marked by the execution of a binding Memorandum of Understanding, outlining each organisation’s role in identifying, pursuing and constructing solar installations throughout Australia.

A strong foundation of innovation

Solar power is still at a transitional stage in Australia. Before it can reach its full potential there are several challenges to overcome. One of the most significant among these is grid stability, especially when it comes to utility-scale projects. A renewable system could offset massive amounts of carbon, but public sentiment will turn against it if the lights go out.

This is a concern MPower and Broadspectrum are striving to address through the consortium, harnessing innovative technologies for energy storage and grid stability management. This area of focus will help establish utility-scale solar as a viable path forward, much like the cloud prediction system did at Karratha Airport.

“At MPower, we have built up a track record of success with integrating exciting new technologies into localised projects, overcoming complex challenges in the process. Thanks to this consortium with Broadspectrum, we’re looking forward to using this culture and appetite for leading-edge innovation to address the challenges facing Australia on a much larger scale,” McCudden says.

Making utility-scale solar work

There are certain solar projects that just perform incredibly well. They’re in an excellent location with few obstacles to that outcome. Others, however, face complex challenges. These are the projects that MPower has successfully commissioned on the local level, and what the consortium with Broadspectrum is targeting for the utility level.

By nature of their impact on a much larger user base, these projects require greater stability, must meet more critical objectives and need to remain cost effective. That has been a challenge with pioneering new innovations, but each success helps build a technological and financial foundation for future efforts. By combining Broadspectrum’s capabilities with MPower’s technological expertise, the consortium will address these obstacles and demonstrate how utility-scale solar can be made more economically viable.

“The projects we’ve been a part of prove that new innovative technologies can address concerns about how renewable energy plants connect into the larger environment,” McCudden says.

“We’re doing our part to drive down the cost of building renewable energy plants, and this reduction will be accelerated because of the consortium with Broadspectrum.”

Jeremy Foster is senior writer technology at Castleford Content Marketing