In his final year of studying a Bachelor in Renewable Energy Engineering at the University of Newcastle, earthconnect’s Mitchell Stephens has already played a role in the installation of Australia’s largest rooftop solar system.
The 26-year-old was privy to witnessing the system, featuring 27,000 panels spread across 7.9 hectares, be first switched on in December 2021.
Installed atop Australian Panel Products’ manufacturing facility in Oberon, the impressive 10 megawatt system was the handiwork of Mr Stephens’ employer Beresfield-based company earthconnect.
“You get on the roof of the factory and you can’t see the other side,” Mr Stephens says.
“It’s so impressive.”
The rooftop solar photovoltaic (PV) system is expected to generate 14 gigi-watt hours of clean energy each year, helping to reduce carbon emissions by an estimated 14,980 tonnes annually.
The panels took five months to assemble, with the project starting in February 2021 and completed the week before Christmas 2021.
While the initial installation cost may seem high, Mr Stephens says the project will take just five years to pay itself back.
“The Return on Investment (ROI) is 532%, meaning it will pay itself back 5.32 times,” he said.
“From a business point of view, both financially, economically and environmentally, there is nothing bad about this project.”
Mr Stephens says renewable energy, like solar, is the cheapest in the world.
“It would cost a lot more to run a project this size using coal.”
The standard panel warranty, Mr Stephens told the Newcastle Weekly, is 25 years.
“I wouldn’t be content if I wasn’t working in this area. I’m passionate about climate change and I’m excited about seeing projects like this that replace current, outdated ways of doing things.”
Solar energy works by capturing the sun’s energy and efficiently turning it into electricity.
“Our sun is a natural reactor,” Mr Stephens said.
“It releases tiny packets of energy called photons, which travel millions of kilometres from the sun to Earth, generating enough solar energy to satisfy energy needs.
“Australia is one of the sunniest countries in the world so it’s the perfect place for the sun to be put to work.”
In regards to conceptualising the size of the system, Mr Stephens explains the sheer size of the project compared to an average Australian household’s electricity usage.
“The average Australian household consumption is roughly 19 kilo-watt hours per day (kWh).
“Multiplied by days in the year gives us roughly 7,000 kWh per year (6,935 to be precise).
“Our system has been calculated to produce 14 Giga-watt hours GWh per year, with one GW worth 1000 mega-watts, and one mega-watt equal to 1,000 kW.
“Basically this system is big enough to power 2,000 homes each year.”
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