Pre-Fabricated Solar Farms: The Next Big Thing?

Saint George Solar Farm

Pre-fabricated solar farms could be the next step towards making solar energy easily available to everyone.

Solar power is a great solution for the world’s increasing energy demand: it’s clean, reliable, and becoming more and more efficient and affordable as the technology improves. Photovoltaic panels are so widespread now that it’s difficult to find a suburban street without any rooftop PV panels glinting in the sun.

But large industries and organizations need more than what a rooftop photovoltaic system can provide, and they need to rely on the heavy-duty power production of solar farms. The problem with solar farms, though, is that they are large and involved construction projects that take time to build, and that means that a lot of money needs to be invested up-front before any benefit can be drawn from the system. Australian engineers have come up with an ingenious solution to the problem of solar construction lag time – pre-fabricated solar farms.

A team of engineers working for Australian solar company 5B have been developing a pre-fabricated solar panel system that could greatly simplify the setup of a solar farm. They’re keeping the technical details of their innovations under wraps for now, while they work out all the details and consider applying for patents. They’ve been testing prototype farms in Australia for over a year and are optimistic about their new business model.

Build, Ship, Install

The 5B team believes that their system of pre-fabricated solar panels can dramatically reduce the labor cost during the setup process, especially in the case projects being built in remote areas. Built nearby and shipped, ready-made, to the project’s location, pre-fabricated panels can be installed quickly: last year the 5B team set up one of their prototype solar farms in under five minutes. It was a small prototype – only 6kW and a little larger than a typical suburban roof array, but getting it up and running in the time it takes to brew a cup of coffee is nonetheless impressive.

Installing pre-fabricated solar panels

They’re scaling up their model for further testing, and they plan to test a larger 20kW prototype module outside of Sydney later this year.

If they can make it work, there may be a surge in pre-fab solar on the horizon.

Reducing solar energy installation and construction costs in remote areas is essential if we want to shift remote projects away from ecologically-damaging and non-renewable sources like diesel and gas power.

A system designed for a quick setup has another hidden benefit: it’s also quick to disassemble. That makes it an ideal proposition for projects that have a limited lifespan. For example, Australia has a busy mining industry, but many smaller mining projects are limited in scope and don’t need a permanent installation.

A solar farm could easily fulfill the energy needs of a temporary mining site, but it’s difficult to convince anyone to invest in such a large undertaking for a site that will only be operational for two or three years.

A prefabricated system would give them the flexibility to build a solar farm for their immediate energy needs, and to break it back down again to be shipped and reinstalled at the next job site. Depending on how this gets rolled out, it’s entirely possible we’ll see job sites renting temporary solar farms instead of buying their own equipment.

Image credit: via FlickR under CC license

  • by Jen MacCormack
  • |
  • March 20, 2016