100 per cent renewable energy: UQ sets new standard

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The University of Queensland (UQ) will become the first major university in the world to offset 100 per cent of its electricity usage by creating its own renewable energy asset – a 220,000 panel solar power farm.

The facility aims to make the University energy neutral by 2020, meaning the farm will produce as much, or more energy each year than the University uses to operate.

It will also be home to a flock of sheep who will live harmoniously alongside the panels.

UQ Vice-Chancellor and President Professor Peter Høj said the establishment of the solar farm would allow the University to offset its annual electricity needs and would provide a range of other benefits.

“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 University’s Energy and Sustainability Manager, Andrew Wilson, said the project was expected to provide an economic boost to the region it is being built in. 

“The facility will be built on a 150 hectare property in Warwick, and will create around 100 direct jobs during the construction phase, and support six to seven ongoing positions in operations and maintenance,” he said.

“The farm builds on UQ’s existing strengths in renewables and sustainable energy solutions. 

“UQ has more than seven years of experience managing large-scale solar PV assets, with rooftop and field-based solar panels already in place at our St Lucia and Gatton campuses.”

The proposed Warwick 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 annual electricity usage. 

The power generated will be sold to the National Electricity Market. 

Innovative alternatives to battery storage, such as thermal energy storage systems, will also compliment this initiative. 

As for the sheep, they seem to thrive in the fields with the solar panels.

“We ran a trial on sheep cohabitation with the solar assets at our Gatton Solar Research Facility, and no adverse effects were recorded for either the sheep or the solar panels,” Mr Wilson said. 

“In fact, the sheep seemed to thrive in the fields with the panels, they would take naps in the shade under the solar panels on hot days.”

The solar farm is a bright step towards a sustainable future for Queensland and Australia, and is one of the many ways UQ is taking steps towards building a more sustainable future.

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