The University of Queensland is set to become the first major university in the world to offset 100 per cent of its electricity usage through its own renewable energy asset.
UQ vice-chancellor and president professor Peter Høj said the University would become energy neutral by 2020 with the establishment of a $125 million solar farm to offset its annual electricity needs.
“The 64 megawatt (MW) solar farm located just outside of Warwick, on Queensland’s Southern Downs, will provide research, teaching and engagement opportunities in addition to its environmental and financial benefits,” Professor Høj said.
“We are already the largest solar generator among Australian universities, and this initiative will complement the 50,000 existing solar panels on our campuses.
“This project makes a clear and bold statement about UQ’s commitment to leadership in renewables and demonstrates UQ is prepared to make a meaningful investment in creating a sustainable future.”
The proposed solar farm will generate about 154,000 megawatt hours of clean energy each year – enough to power 27,000 average homes – more than offsetting UQ’s current and projected future annual electricity usage.
Construction is planned to start by the end of this year, directly creating more than 100 jobs, with an expected build time of 12 months.
The cost of the project will be recouped within the life of the project through energy cost savings.
“The solar farm will offset UQ’s current $22 million annual expenditure on grid electricity once it is fully operational in 2019,” Professor Høj said.
The project received development approval from Southern Downs Regional Council on 6 June and a formal connection agreement is now being finalised.
Following construction, the site is expected to support six to seven ongoing full-time positions in operations and maintenance.
Professor Høj said the Warwick solar farm would offer a range of further research and teaching opportunities.
“It will leverage UQ’s existing clean energy strengths and provide the potential to venture into emerging research and industry partnerships.
“Public engagement with the facility could be as varied as student field trips through to live data streaming that can be used for interactive market simulations.
“In addition, UQ will install several electric vehicle ‘fast chargers’, and the site will include a visitor’s centre, helping to position the Southern Downs as a renewable energy hub.”
UQ has more than seven years of experience managing large-scale solar PV assets of almost 50,000 solar panels at campuses in Brisbane and Gatton.
UQ will also take ownership of the project from renewable energy developer Terrain Solar once construction starts, and will own and operate the plant over its expected life.