Utility Scale Solar for Utility Scale Desalination

Clean Water + Solar Energy: A utility scale desalination plant uses utility scale solar energy.

Australia's First Utility-Scale Solar Photo Voltaic Project is under way, and it will help meet Western Australia's water security issues by fueling a much needed desalination plant. A joint effort funded by Australia's Verve Energy, GE Energy Financial Services and the Western Australian Government, the 10-megawatt project will use PV modules by First Solar, based in Tempe, Arizona. Output from the 10-megawatt AC project, on 80 hectares (about .3 square miles) of cleared land, will contribute to offsetting the energy requirements of the Southern Seawater Desalination Plant (SSDP). The plant is being built because Western Australia can no longer rely on rainfall to power dams. Last year only 13 billion liters flowed into the dams, which is a fraction of the volume of water needed to meet supply. This year has seen around 13 billion liters of inflow with the winter months two thirds over. Normally they would expect around 36 billion liters by this time of year. The Western Australia Water Company release about the Southern Seawater Desalination Plant expansion, announced that at least half of the water needed for the Perth metropolitan area will be supplied from climate independent desalination and this will provide security to water supplies even in the driest of years -- in both the short term and long term. In order to meet the energy demands of desalination, Western Australian state-owned power utility Verve Energy and GE Energy Financial Services will each own 50 percent of the Greenough River Solar Farm. The Western Australian Government is providing A$20 million (about $21.3 Million US as of 8/31/11), including A$10 million from the WA Royalties for Regions program. The Western Australia Water Corporation, which is building the Southern Seawater Desalination Plant, has committed to purchase 100 percent of the solar farm's output. The result is that no debt will be raised to fund the project.

150,000 Solar Panels

First Solar has agreed to supply the project with over 150,000 of its advanced thin film photovoltaic (PV) modules and provide engineering, procurement and construction services, in addition to operations and maintenance support once the solar farm is operational.

"This demonstrates the significant potential for renewable energy generation, especially utility-scale solar in Western Australia and throughout Australia," said Jim Brown, President of the Utility Systems Business Group for First Solar. "We're pleased to bring our expertise in advanced PV technology and utility-scale solar deployment to Verve Energy and GE Energy Financial Services to deliver this ground breaking project."

Taking advantage of the area's vast dry, flat and sunny conditions, the solar farm will be the first utility-scale PV project in Australia, 10 times larger than any other operating solar project in the country. The agreement is subject to the satisfaction of certain statutory requirements. Verve Energy Strategy and Business Development Manager, Tony Narvaez added:

"The solar farm is important for Verve Energy, for Western Australia and for the local renewable energy sector. It enhances Verve Energy's reputation as a renewable energy innovator."

For GE Energy Financial Services, the project represents its first renewable energy investment in Australia, adding to its global portfolio of more than US$400 million of solar power equity and debt investments in 42 projects.

"This transaction enables us to apply our renewable energy investment expertise to a new market, add to our portfolio of projects with First Solar and to GE's broader work with Verve Energy," said Jason Willoughby, GE Energy Financial Services Australia business leader. "This project also will support GE's ecomagination program, in our aim to help customers meet their environmental challenges."

Jobs & Carbon

Providing clean, affordable and sustainable energy to partially power the Southern Seawater Desalination Plant, near the town of Binningup, the solar project is expected to create more than 50 construction jobs. The project, which will produce energy when it is most needed during the day. It will displace 25,000 tonnes per year of greenhouse gas emissions, the equivalent of taking 5,000 cars off the road. The state's primary supplier of water, wastewater and drainage services, the Water Corporation, will purchase the power generated by the solar farm for the Southern Seawater Desalination Plant under a 15-year contract. The plant will produce about 50 gigalitres of potable water per year. The project will boost Western Australia's share of the Federal Government's renewable energy target of 20 percent by 2020.

The Partners

About First Solar

First Solar manufactures solar modules with an advanced semiconductor technology and provides comprehensive photovoltaic (PV) system solutions. From raw material sourcing through end-of-life collection and recycling, First Solar is focused on creating cost-effective, renewable energy solutions that protect and enhance the environment.

About Verve Energy

Verve Energy is the leading generator of electricity in Western Australia. Verve Energy owns and operates an extensive and diverse portfolio of power stations and renewable energy systems with a total capacity of 2,967 Mega Watts.

About GE Energy Financial Services

GE Energy Financial Services™ experts invest globally across the capital spectrum in essential, long-lived, and capital-intensive energy assets that meet the world's energy needs. GE Energy Financial Services offers the best of GE's technical know-how, technology innovation, financial strength, and rigorous risk management. The GE business unit helps grow new investments, strong partnerships, and optimization of its approximately US$20 billion in assets.

"When the expanded plant is complete, at least half of the water needed for the Perth metropolitan area will be supplied from climate independent desalination. This will provide security to water supplies even in the driest of years in both the short term and long term."