Weipa Solar Farm Case Study

Case Study CS0029 - Weipa Solar Farm - Renewable Energy

Key Stakeholders:

  • First Solar (Australia) Pty Ltd, a subsidiary of First Solar, Inc.
  • Rio Tinto
  • Australian Renewable Energy Agency (ARENA)
  • Weipa Solar Farm Pty Ltd
  • MPower



MPower contracted by First Solar to construct a solar plant

With a 30 year history of successfully delivering power solutions across diverse projects within the renewable and traditional power generation space including mining, oil and gas, MPower has the unique mix of solution innovation, engineering and project management.

MPower was selected to validate the engineering, some procurement and manage the construction of the 1.7 megawatt (MW) capacity solar plant that services Rio Tinto’s Weipa bauxite mine, processing facilities and township on the Western Cape York Peninsula in Queensland, Australia.

Australia’s first commercial diesel displacement solar plant: Weipa Solar Farm

Key stakeholder’s First Solar, Inc., Rio Tinto and the Australian Renewable Energy Agency (ARENA) announced in September, 2015 that Weipa Solar Farm began operation, making history in Australia to be the first remote mining operation to be supplied with power from a large scale solar farm.

The 1.7MW capacity solar plant is expected to produce an average of 2800MW hours of electricity each year. The electricity from the 18,000 advanced First Solar photovoltaic (PV) modules that have been connected to Rio Tinto’s existing mini-grid will be purchased by Rio Tinto under a 15 year Power Purchase Agreement (PPA).


MPower’s capability showcased

MPower was tasked to manage the procurement, construction and design of the solar array, substation and groundworks as well as the technical responsibilities of commissioning in a remote, challenging environment.

The company completed the project over nine months, with the majority of the project requirements utilising in-house resources including design and engineering, project management, electrical technicians, health, safety, environment and quality and procurement and administration personnel.

Ensuring the design met specification and the solar array could withstand the arduous conditions of the remote site was essential in measuring the success of the project. With a 20 year design life, the solar array will withstand cyclones, high wind, flooding and high ambient temperatures. Components such as 200mm module clamps were custom designed by Clenergy for the project, providing additional protection in high wind.

Thousands of components, one powerful solar plant


When selecting the components for the solar farm, MPower’s team implemented their skills and knowledge to ensure the right parts were ready for the job on hand. From the 18,000 advanced First Solar photovoltaic (PV) modules, the 9000 screw piles, 28 kilometres of aluminium rail and a substation that can power 400 homes, each component was selected with cause and care to construct one powerful solar plant.

In addition to MPower’s procurement resources, MPower’s electrical engineering team designed, manufactured and installed 18 x 12 way 1000VDC PV combiner boxes used to combine multiple DC inputs from the solar array (between 6 and 12), to a single output DC feeder, improving overall safety and ease of installation. The team also designed and implemented the SCADA system for the control room that provides remote monitoring in real time for the substation.   

What challenges did MPower tackle?

The town of Weipa is remote; situated off Western Cape York Peninsula in Queensland, Australia, this outback town is only 200 kilometres from the very tip of Australia. Towns in this region are often difficult to access, due to the remoteness, roads, infrastructure and climate. The combination of hot temperatures above 300C and the wet season (between January and April) create a tropical savanna climate that often affects transport and logistics within the region. This was one of the challenges the MPower team tackled and overcame.

For the majority of the project lifecycle, wet season was at play, presenting a number of challenges for the team. When equipment arrived in the region, access to roads were often closed and alternative transport had to be utilised. A barge (a flat bottom boat) was employed to deliver goods from Cairns to Weipa, travelling more than 805 kilometres. This was the only alternative and with only one barge delivery a week to Weipa, the timing of deliveries were crucial.

The lead time in ordering the components of the Solar Plant was carefully factored and planned to ensure equipment arrived on time for transportation and ready for key milestones of the projects construction. Components were ordered and delivered locally where possible, however the majority of components were delivered from around the world; Frames were transported from China, cables from Indonesia and switch room equipment from New Zealand.

The skills of MPower’s procurement and logistics team played a major role in ensuring resources were correctly ordered and delivered. As simple as this may seem to most, behind the scenes the team had to work vigorously to meet the requirements of the project. Constant communication with suppliers and transport companies proved to be the best solution, allowing the team to monitor and manage the arrival of goods to the region case by case and expediting where possible.

MPower have the knowledge and experience to deliver renewable power solutions. If your organisation would like to find out more about improving power efficiency, developing a better way to source power or reduce your businesses carbon emissions, contact MPower by phone on +61 2 8788 4600 or email: contracts@mpower.com.au .

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