Integrating solar PV on Cockatoo Island

A renewable energy installation in the heart of Sydney Harbour is integrating leading solar photovoltaic system technology with Australia’s cultural heritage, achieving maximum efficiencies and showcasing the benefits of solar solutions.

One of New South Wales’ largest urban solar photovoltaic (PV) systems, the 64.8 kilowatt (kW) grid-connected PV array on Cockatoo Island’s Turbine Hall has been designed by Solgen Energy and features the latest technology, including SMA’s SUNNY MINI CENTRAL 10,000TL inverters, to maximise efficiencies and increase energy yields.

The project is expected to come online in September and was an opportunity to develop the unique Sydney landmark into an environmentally and culturally sustainable attraction for the island’s hundreds of thousands of visitors each year.

Advanced technology for best results

With funding from the Federal Government’s Green Precincts Fund, the Sydney Harbour Federation Trust contracted Solgen Energy to design and install the PV system on the island’s Turbine Hall.

The 680 square metre array comprises six SMA SUNNY MINI CENTRAL 10,000TL inverters and 216 SCHOTT Solar POLY 300 watt Double Glass modules.

Annual production from the Turbine Hall system will exceed 100 megawatt-hours, providing 125 per cent of the building’s annual energy consumption – an annual saving of approximately 110 tonnes of CO2.

The SUNNY MINI CENTRAL 10,000TL inverter was the obvious choice for Solgen Energy as it provides efficiencies of 98 per cent and also adaptability with the Trust’s planned energy monitoring.

Solgen Energy Director Joe Coco explains that the transformer-less inverters meant easier and safer installation for the installation staff.

“The quality and experience of SMA together with the ten year product warranty will see the Sunny 10,000TL inverter reduce maintenance costs over the long term,” he adds.

Zygmunt Nejman, Managing Director of SMA Australia, comments that with its state-of-the-art technology, the SUNNY MINI CENTRAL 10,000TL inverters provide endless possibilities for the Cockatoo Island installation and is the system’s perfect power conversion partner.

The SUNNY MINI CENTRAL 10,000TL features SMA’s patented H5 Topology technology, which optimises the current flow in the inverter, reducing loss during conversion to less than 2 per cent.

The inverter’s intelligent temperature management system, OptiCool, is also contained within the inverter.

Mr Nejman says “This patented two chamber cooling system offers an ideal combination of passive and active cooling that meets the increasing demand for consistent installation climates as PV plants and inverters become more powerful.”

Finally, to ensure that the solar module always operates at its maximum power, the SUNNY MINI CENTRAL 10,000TL inverter contains MMP Tracker technology.

Mr Nejman says “No matter what modules are used, OptiTrack increases the energy yield of a PV plant by up to 1.5 per cent per year on average, saving money for the plant operator.”

The use of SCHOTT Solar Double Glass Modules was another technological achievement of the project.

Solgen Energy Director Joe Coco says SCHOTT Solar’s advanced double glass PV technology is ideal because it is capable of withstanding extremely harsh environments such as the marine environment at Cockatoo Island.

Working with history

Solgen Energy overcame unique challenges in the installation of the Cockatoo Island Turbine Hall PV system.

Through detailed initial planning and work methodologies, they delivered over 50 tonnes of equipment and moved heavy vehicles and boom-lifts around the island safely and efficiently.

Moving the 40 kilogram modules into the array configurations was a particular logistical challenge that was overcome with the use of specific work methodologies, including the use of purpose built trolleys, training for installation teams and the installation of permanent safe access points for ongoing maintenance.

Solgen Energy also provided a full site Safety Management Plan to the Trust before commencing work to ensure they could work safely on the area while maintaining site access for the general public.

Finally, designing a system that was sympathetic to the building’s design and cultural heritage saw the final design include:

  • An array layout that maintained light through the building’s skylights
  • A lengthy but invisible cable run incorporating non-penetrating clamps
  • An inverter station that accounted for future expansion
  • Permanent safety anchor points and access to the array for future maintenance.

“Each heritage site presented unique challenges. In one case, we concealed over 2.5 kilometres of cable within the Turbine Hall structure,” says Mr Coco.

Sydney Harbour Federation Trust Director David Williams says the Trust has recently built an elevated walkway alongside the Turbine Hall roof to allow visitors to interpret the extraordinary convict excavated grain-silos on the island’s new Convict Trail.

Mr Williams says “The heritage/hi-tech juxtaposition provides an interesting perspective from which to interpret the two main aspects of cultural significance on Cockatoo - the convict heritage and the industrial heritage values.”

With the Turbine Hall’s PV system expandable, Williams says the Trust is considering future renewable energy development for the Harbour, including engaging local communities in an energy saving scheme that involves investment in PV by householders who don’t have suitable roofs or compatible situations.

Image 1: Installation of the PV array at Cockatoo Island’s Turbine Hall.

Image 2: Inside Turbine Hall. The solar array’s layout maintains light through the building’s skylights.

Image 3: The inverter station accounts for future expansion.

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