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Commercial Solar Installer takes home two out of four categories with its innovative, custom solar designs for regional businesses.

The Clean Energy Council’s (CEC) Solar Design and Installation Award event honours innovation and skill in the relatively new field of commercial solar installations. Last night’s event formed part of the All-Energy Exhibition and Conference, held in Melbourne. Commercial solar is only just beginning to take off in Australia, where rising electricity prices, especially in regional areas, are forcing businesses to consider alternative energy options such as solar PV.

But there is more to commercial solar PV installations than just slapping a few solar panels on roofs – and that is exactly why GEM Energy’s Electrical Engineering team ended up winning a whopping two out of four categories at the recent award ceremony: for grid connected over 100kW and battery backup. Both highly customised solar installations are Australian firsts and came with a variety of challenges, exquisitely solved by GEM Energy’s Dimitar Iliev, Jeff Hoare, Kurt Elvery and Ben Kolle.

GEM Energy’s head of electrical engineering, Dimitar Iliev, said to make the grid connected, 517 kWp solar system at Dobinsons Springs a reality, they had to smooth out the highly fluctuating electricity load which is due to the operation of furnaces. On top of that, the high ambient temperatures required special cooling solutions for the manufacturing shed, inverter room and the panels on the roof.

Dobinsons Springs Solar PV Rockhampton

Solar PV Installation at Dobinsons Springs, Rockhampton

“We worked together with the Dobinsons team to address the load fluctuation issue, then we installed solar extraction fans, tweaked the panel set up to allow more air flow and added a reverse cycle air conditioner in the inverter room. Keeping the components as cool as possible is important to achieve maximum system reliability and lifetime. The staff at Dobinsons are much happier as well because of the improved air quality and temperature in the sheds since the installation.” Mr. Iliev said.

And not just the staff are happy – the solar system was cash flow positive from quarter one, meaning that the electricity savings are larger than the loan repayment. The installation got financed with a Clean Energy Finance Corporation (CEFC) -supported loan through NAB, and structured so that there was $0 upfront capital cost. Since the installation, Dobinsons have been able to generate 30% of their total energy requirements on site. The energy bill reduction is expected to be $162,436 per year with an estimated revenue of Large-scale Generation Certificates (LGCs) of $39,000 per annum.

Mr. Iliev added, “Dobinsons would have liked to install storage and become completely independent of the electricity network immediately, yet we advised them to wait until batteries reach a more viable price point. Our system designs are future-compatible and allow for expansion further down the track.”

Bundaberg Christian College

Solar PV Installation at Bundaberg Christian College

As for the winning battery backup system, GEM Energy’s installation of a 194 kWp solar system with 252 kWh of battery storage at Bundaberg Christian College is the largest hybrid system of its kind in Australia. It saves the school up to 80% of its previous power usage which amounts to at least $100,000 per year on electricity. On top of that the solar system is expected to generate about $20,000 in LGCs and reduce carbon emissions by 166 tons per annum.

Mr. Iliev said, “For this project, we combined the solar installation with a switch to 1,500 LED lights as well as a range of other energy efficiency measures. The result was an immediate halving of electricity consumption, which meant a direct cost reduction for the project because we did not have to install as much solar.”

In the daytime, the solar PV supplies the school with electricity while the battery storage comes into play during peak demand hours, shoulder hours and the evening. Mr. Iliev continued, “To meet the local network requirements we had to custom engineer a site master controller for smooth charging and discharging. Since the installation, we have kept monitoring the site to make improvements and get the system running at maximum efficiency. We are also working with the school to get them completely off grid within the next few years. They are very keen for this to happen, as the college has already become a great learning ground for sustainability and engineering.”

Savings calculated over the life of the system are estimated to be around $2,500,000 offering a return on investment of over 400% before the batteries need replacing. Once again, the project was cash flow positive from the first quarter onwards and has a payback period of seven years.

The CEC’s Accreditation Manager Sandy Atkins said that the calibre of work at the college by GEM Energy’s installers and engineers showcases the incredibly skilled and passionate professionals working every day in the Australian solar industry. She continued, “Projects at the community level such as the solar installation at the Bundaberg Christian College are a great example of the way Australians are embracing cleaner types of energy. Combined with the falling cost of solar technology, it all points to a bright future for renewable energy.”