Australia’s largest hybrid solar and battery project, the New England Solar Farm and Battery Project in northern New South Wales, reached a new milestone over the weekend, following the delivery of the first of two massive 250 MVA transformers.

From pv magazine Australia

The first of two 150-ton electricity transformers has been trucked into the New England Solar Farm site near Uralla,  in the Australian state of New South Wales, with the second to arrive next Sunday.

The AUD 768 million ($584.3 million) project – developed by UPC/AC Renewables Australia, a joint venture between UPC Renewables and AC Energy – will eventually see a 720MW solar farm colocated with a 50MWh battery. The lithium-ion battery could eventually grow to a capacity of 400MWh. Construction of the first 400MW stage of the solar farm is already underway, including the installation of the tracking system, perimeter fencing and the substation – to which the transformers belong.

German manufacturer Siemens supplied the transformers. They will be fitted by MegaVolt. The project’s construction director Tim Greenaway described the deliveries as a “major milestone.” The project reached financial close in February 2021 and work started just a month later. Two more large deliveries are expected to reach the site over the next month, including the prefabricated building structures containing the switch and control rooms.

Regional transformation

The New England Solar Farm’s two solar fields sit within the area of the New England Renewable Energy Zone (REZ). The project secured transmission approved from TransGrid before the 8GW REZ was announced in July 2020, however.

Once completed, the project will produce around 1,800GWh of electricity per annum, helping plug the gap left by the region’s rapidly closing coal stations.

The New England Renewable Energy Zone / Image: NSW government

Last week, AGL shut off the first of Liddell’s four coal fired turbines, marking the beginning of the end for the plant, which will retire this year. While the Liddell closure has been looming for quite some time, operator Origin Energy made headlines when it said in February that it would retire its nearby Eraring coal plant in 2025 – bringing the closure date forward to the minimum notice period.

While Cornwall Insight Australia’s principal consultant, Ben Cerini, estimates that there may already be enough solar in the region to cover the massive exit, the network will require significantly more dispatchable power (such as that from battery storage), as well as additional transmission infrastructure and the acceleration of the renewable energy zone developments to plug the gap.

The New South Wales government plans to deliver at least 12GW of renewable energy into the grid before 2030 to fill the gap left by the closure of the state’s coal-fired power plants.