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Darwin Airport completes 4MW large scale solar power facility

Darwin International Airport has flicked the switch on its new 4MW (megawatt) photovoltaic (PV) solar array, which will provide a significant proportion of the airport’s solar power. This marks the end of Stage 1 of the solar project and sees the organisation progress to Stage 2 with a further 1.5MW.  

Upon completion, the total value of the project will be $13 million, with the Stage 1 solar array being the largest airside photovoltaic (PV) solar array in the world.

Darwin International Airport is ‘lighting the way’ towards a more sustainable future by showing leadership in reducing its carbon footprint.

Investment

Northern Territory Airports is one of the Territory’s largest private sector investors, with its parent group Airport Development Group (ADG) owning and operating airports in Darwin, Alice Springs and Tennant Creek.

Along with its substantial investment in the past 20 years in growing aviation capacity, Northern Territory Airports has invested strongly in community partnerships and environmental stewardship.

Its pioneering investment in solar energy is unparalleled for an airport operator in the southern hemisphere.

  • Darwin International Airport’s 4MW Stage 1 solar array is the largest airside PV (photovoltaic) system in the world.
  • Alice Springs Airport has pioneered the use of solar technologies and is almost self-sufficient in its power needs.
  • Darwin Solar 1.5MW Stage 2 is now underway to be completed by end of 2016.

Darwin Solar Stage 1

Darwin International Airport’s new solar farm is powered by a 4MW PV array at the eastern end of the main runway. 

Construction of Stage 1, which began last December, comprises 15,000 solar panels over six hectares and will produce electricity equivalent to the consumption of 1,000 households.

The system is forecast to meet up to 100% of the airport’s peak energy demand in the middle of the day and to generate 25% of the airport’s overall energy needs.

The $13 million solar farm is entirely financed by private sector investment and is expected to reduce the airport’s power bills by $1.5 million p.a. based on current peak tariff rates. This makes the project the largest 100% private sector investment in a solar PV installation in Australia.

Quick facts

  • Darwin International Airport is the largest airside PV solar system in the world.
  • Against the national average, the system is forecast to produce energy equivalent to the consumption of 1,000 Australian households.
  • Stage 1 and Stage 2 of the 5.5MW solar project is valued at $13 million and is entirely privately funded.
  • Stage 1 is a 4MW (megawatt) solar PV array.
  • It is at the eastern end of the main runway.
  • The PV array includes 15,000 solar panels over six hectares.
  • This facility is forecast to generate 25% of the airport’s energy needs.
  • It will be Australia’s most northern multi-MW PV array system.
  • It will be the largest ‘behind the meter’ PV system designed and built for a single building/facility in Australia.
  • The banks of arrays will support Q Cell photovoltaic panels, a product selected for its suitability to the Top End’s cyclonic conditions.
  • The solar farm is on six hectares of airport land not needed for aviation activities and has an expected life span of 25 years.
  • Work on the project included earthworks, stormwater drains, access roads and solar modules.

Key partners

  • CAT Projects, an NT based indigenous-owned company which conceived the development and acted as Owners Engineer and Project Superintendent
  • UGL which engineered procured and constructed the solar farm

Background on Northern Territory Airports

Airport Development Group (ADG) acquired a lease for the three Northern Territory Airports (Darwin International Airport, Alice Springs Airport and Tennant Creek Airport) from the Australian Government, commencing operations on 10 June 1998. It now owns and operates the three airports and a rapidly growing business precinct.

Airport Development Group is majority Australian-owned, a requirement of the Airports Act 1996. Its owners are IFM Investors (77.4%) and Palisade Investment Partners Limited (22.6%), so the airport is indirectly owned by many Australians’ superannuation funds.

The three airports have 80 full-time employees and many other contractors providing key airport services, generating total direct and indirect jobs for about 1,600 Territorians. 

More than 2.4 million passengers travelled through the three airports last year, with the airports and associated businesses contributing 1.5% of the Gross State Product of the Northern Territory.

Key term definitions

Solar power

Solar power is the conversion of sunlight into electricity, either directly using photovoltaic (PV), or indirectly using concentrated solar power (CSP).

PV (photovoltaic)

The various forms of solar energy include solar heat, solar photovoltaic (PV), solar thermal electricity and solar fuels.

Photovoltaic (PV) is the rooftop solar you see on homes and businesses – it produces electricity from solar energy directly, unlike solar thermal technologies that use the sun’s energy to generate heat, and electricity is generated from that.

BTM (Behind The Meter)

The BTM system is a renewable energy generating facility (in this case, a solar PV system) that produces power intended for use on site. The location of the solar PV system is literally “Behind The Meter” – in this case, on airport land rather than on the side of the electric grid/utility. 

MW (Megawatt)

Megawatts are used to measure power. One megawatt (MW) = 1,000 kilowatts = 1,000,000 watts. The Darwin International Airport solar array is four megawatts.