Farm may impact weather

A climate scientist says the design of power plants proposed under the Solar Flagships program, including Nyngan’s, has not taken into account their impact on surrounding climates.

Dr Alberto Troccoli and fellow CSIRO climate scientist Dr Jack Katzfey will investigate possible changes to the local climate that massive solar farms produce. 

It is hoped the study by the CSIRO’s weather and energy research unit, in collaboration with private equity group Game Changer Ventures, can help improve the design of solar farms.

In particular, the scientists will examine whether solar farms can be manipulated to produce significant rainfall, in addition to electricity.

“It is interesting that solar power plants proposed under the Solar Flagships program in Australia are not designed with any consideration of their effect on weather but this should be determined, both positively and negatively, before they are built,” Dr Troccoli said.

John Riedl, CEO of Game Changer Ventures which is partially funding the project, said arrays the sizes of cities were already being planned for parts of the world, such as the DESERTEC project in Morocco which was designed to

help meet Europe’s energy needs.

He said with such projects there were likely to be changes to the local climate and it was important to engineer the arrays in such a way as to make the changes beneficial wherever possible.

Dr Troccoli said large solar power installations would locally modify solar reflection, land surface characteristics, vegetation type and energy absorption.

“This will have an effect on both the local dynamics and the energy balance of the atmosphere, in ways difficult to compute with simplistic assumptions,” Dr Troccoli said.

“A complex numerical dynamical model will thus need to be employed to provide insights into this intriguing problem.”

AGL Energy Limited was selected by the Australian Government as the successful proponent in the solar photovoltaic category under the Solar Flagships Program.

It and First Solar (Australia) will deliver large-scale solar PV power projects with a capacity of 100MW at Nyngan and 50MW at Broken Hill.

Nyngan was chosen because it receives strong and consistent solar radiation.

The Nyngan solar plant will include a power station that will occupy 250 hectares to the north of the Barrier Highway and connect to the existing Nyngan-Cobar transmission line.

Construction will begin in 2014 with commercial operation expected to start at the end of 2015.

 The project is expected to create up to 300 jobs in the Nyngan area during its construction.