It markets itself to tourists as the Sunshine State. Now Queensland’s oldest university has turned the sales pitch into a business case, as it moves to become a large-scale solar power generator.
The University of Queensland has taken possession of what is expected to become the world’s biggest university-owned renewable energy generation plant. UQ announced that it had completed the purchase of Warwick Solar Farm, on tablelands just north of the New South Wales border, and engaged property group Lendlease to design and build the A$125 million (£72 million) project.
Chief operating officer Greg Pringle said that construction of the 64-megawatt solar farm is expected to start early next year, with energy injected into the grid from the third quarter of 2019.
By the time the facility is fully operational, it will generate 160,000 megawatt hours a year, UQ said. Producing that amount of power through conventional means would discharge 125,000 tonnes of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere, equivalent to the emissions of almost 50,000 cars.
UQ said that the plant will make it the first university in the world to offset its entire energy needs from its own renewable energy assets, which also include almost 50,000 existing solar panels at campuses in Brisbane and Gatton.
It will also be a test bed for photovoltaic power research. Mr Pringle said that the university wants the region where the farm is located, known as the Southern Downs, to become “a hub for sustainable energy research, education and engagement”.
While other universities have been divesting themselves of shares in fossil fuel companies, UQ has been busy investing in its own renewable capacities and said that it is already the largest solar generator among Australian universities.
It predicts that the project will create up to 100 construction jobs and six ongoing roles in management, operations and maintenance. The project also involves planting more than 30,000 native trees and shrubs along the site’s four-mile (six-kilometre) boundaries.