FAQS

Project & Technology

How does solar generation work?
When photons of light shine on a solar panel they knock electrons free on an electrical circuit and produce electricity. Inverters regulate the accumulation of electricity from a selection of solar panels and at the substation the electricity is distributed to the grid. The angle of incidence of the light ray on the panel is important in terms of the amount of energy that can be extracted from it. This is why installing tracking systems that keep the panels tilted towards the sun helps increase the energy generation.
What technology does Neoen use to build its solar farms?
Neoen uses similar technology to that used in residential solar photovoltaic installations with the main difference being that panels are often mounted on systems that track the sun through the sky. Neoen is experienced in financing, constructing and operating solar farms and in all areas only engages experienced contractors with a proven track record. The Culcairn Solar Farm will utilise premium tier 1 quality solar panels and battery technology provided by leading manufacturers.

Neoen’s projects use premium quality panels, inverters and battery technology provided by leading manufacturers. This is selected through a competitive process for each project. All components come with long warranty periods and performance guarantees.

Why is a battery included in Neoen’s proposal?
Neoen has vast experience in the integration or large-scale batteries into the Australian electricity network, owning and operating Australia’s largest battery – Hornsdale Power Reserve (or the SA big battery).

Large-scale battery deployment can remove price spikes in electricity prices to create a more stable market with reduced costs for consumers. The battery supports the variability of renewable generation by smoothing output, whilst absorbing excess capacity during low demand and release during peak occurrences.

Also, due to the fact the battery interfaces with the electricity network via a digital inverter, it can support the frequency in the event of a contingency with response times within 200 milliseconds of a system disturbance. This achieves balanced power and frequency, which is much faster and more accurate than alternative generation technologies that depend on mechanical turbines.

Finally, the battery can also provide an alternative solution than simply building more poles and wires. Transmission network augmentation can be deferred as this project has the ability to support New South Wales’ network congestions, thus creating a savings for the network owners, government and household consumers.

How long does it take to build a solar farm?
The construction timeframe depends on the project size and the number of workers deployed on site. For a 100 MW power plant, an 8 to 12-month timeframe is typical, with a peak construction period of 2 to 3 months. A large project like Culcairn will take around 12 to 18 months to construct with a peak construction period of 5 to 8 months.
What is the life cycle of a solar farm?
A solar farm will typically operate for between 25 and 30 years. Tier 1 solar panels that will be procured for the project generally come with a 25-year manufacturer’s warranty. Depending on the local environment, they can generate electricity for 30 years or more with only about 0.5% efficiency loss each year. It is anticipated that the solar farm will operate for between 25 to 30 years.
How long will the batteries last?
Batteries lifespan is dictated by the usage and frequency of cycles (charge / discharge). Neoen will procure the batteries from tier 1 suppliers, such as Tesla, who are able to provide a performance guarantee for 10-20 years, with an agreed degradation rate based on the proposed use case and cycling frequency.

Temperature is also a key factor on the overall life of the battery cell, which is why the battery integrates multiple HVAC cooling units to regulate the operating temperature of the system to ensure it stays within the optimal temperature envelope to maximise cell life.

How high are solar panels?
Generally speaking solar panels have a dimension of 1m x 2m. Rows of solar panels are usually 30, 60 or 90 meter long. And rows of panels are separated by 5 to 7 meters. However, this varies from project to project.
Will the solar panels generate glare?
Improved manufacturing techniques on tier 1 panels include anti-reflective (AR) coatings on solar panels. This increases the amount of energy converted by the panels from sunlight. In addition, by minimising reflective losses from (or trapping more light within) solar panels, their performance can be increased while costs are lowered.
Because of these innovations in AR coatings and detailed research solar panel installations are now commonly found in airports around the world where any issue of glare would be highly scrutinised. For example, the Adelaide airport now has 5,000 solar panels with a capacity of 1.28 MW on the roof of the terminal and car park.
Where is the site and what route will large vehicles utilise?
The solar farm is proposed to have a capacity of 350MW, and will be split between two sites that are separated by Cummings Road. Access to the sites will be provided via Weeamera Road, which connects to Benambra Road and Olympic Highway. A vehicle crossing will be established across Cummings Road to provide traffic movements between the sites.

The majority of plant construction activity is expected to be delivered from the south along Olympic Highway.

A detailed Traffic Impact Assessment and Management Plan has been undertaken by Neoen in the Development Application.

Will the batteries end up in landfill once their capacity is diminished?
Neoen works with key equipment supply partners to deliver its projects, such as Tesla, who share sustainability principles and Project Custodian commitments. This represents a driving force behind the company’s commitment to industry, via procurement that accounts for total cost of ownership and leading recycling programs.
With lithium-ion batteries and PV modules forming the critical asset components, Neoen values commitments made by Tesla to recover recycle all returned battery packs and modules. This equates to over 60% of the battery materials being recovered for reuse, such as cobalt and nickel. In addition, up to 90% of the solar module’s weight can be recycled, such as the glass, aluminium, and plastics.
With respect to the project’s battery, Neoen stipulates in the supply contract that the original battery manufacturer, such as Tesla, will be required to implement this recovery and recycling scheme. Within this recovery process, an assessment of the batteries capacity and health will determine if the manufacturer disposes it, recycles the valuable metals, or preparing for reuse in a ‘2nd-life application’.
Important measures are developing in the battery value stream prior to recycling and disposal that extend the useful life of the battery cells beyond the original Project’s use case. The project’s batteries shall have an original design life and performance specification that after significant use and cycling over many years will no longer meet the original performance specifications due to degradation. However, these battery cells will still possess useful capacity that can be used in ‘2nd-life applications’ that require less-frequent battery cycling (charge/discharge).
An example of an alternative use case is in ‘standby back-up’ power systems that require less cycling and capacity than Neoen’s primary use case via the Project. This is exemplified by the Arena project at Amsterdam’s soccer stadium (Nissan, 2018). This development indicates the industry’s progress in repurposing lithium-ion batteries from previous applications and matches them with an second alternative use case.

ECONOMY

Do solar farms benefit the Australian/regional/local economy?
Each project benefits the local community by creating employment. At Neoen’s Coleambally Solar Farm 300 people were employed locally during the construction phase and five are indirectly employed locally in full-time positions during operations. Neoen provides opportunities for local contractors to submit tenders and local jobseekers to seek employment by hosting a series of contractor sessions in the local area prior to any construction commencing. In addition, Neoen establishes a community fund for each solar farm to support community group projects. Media reports also indicate that some drought-stricken farmers are turning to solar farm contracts as a way of earning additional income and future-proofing their enterprises against climate change.
How much do renewables cost compared with other energy sources?
Renewable energy projects are now the cheapest sources of new energy generation. Solar energy projects produce energy at less than $50 per megawatt-hour. The costs of other sources of generation are:

  • Existing coal: approximately $40 per megawatt hour
  • Combined gas-cycle generation: approximately $75 per megawatt hour
  • New coal: approximately $130 per megawatt hour

Neoen pays for any electrical transmission upgrades necessary to connect and operate the project in the electricity grid. This includes construction and maintenance costs for the life of the project.

Do solar farms result in a decrease in electricity prices?
Solar energy forms just one part of the Australian Energy Market Operators (AEMO) move towards renewable energy. Solar farms add to the supply side of the electricity supply-demand equation, which puts downward pressure on all electricity bills.
Does Neoen require government subsidies to build its projects?
Neoen does not require government subsidies to finance its projects. We finance our projects through a combination of our own equity and long-term bank loans. However, we sometimes enter into agreements with governments or businesses to sell the energy produced by our projects.
Who assesses the projects?
All Neoen projects meet strict State and Federal Government regulations and are assessed under these regulations. We work closely with governments to ensure we meet all legal requirements and exceed these requirements wherever possible.

Community

Should I expect the value of my near-by property to decrease due to the project’s development?
This objection is common in development of renewable (primarily wind) projects both in Australia and overseas. Neoen fully appreciates that for most households, their home is their primary asset and that factors which may affect its value are of deep significance. Accordingly, the company takes concerns regarding property values very seriously.

However, Neoen is not aware of, and has not been presented with, any reliable, impartial research or evidence which establishes a correlation between real estate values and proximity to renewable infrastructure. Anecdotally, property values around several of our sites have increased.
The most recent and relevant study carried out in Australia was commissioned by the NSW Office of Environment and Heritage and published by planning consultancy Urbis in July 20161 This report comprised both an analysis of available sales data and a ‘literature review’ of Australian and international studies (including a 2009 report prepared for the NSW Valuer-General’s office). Its conclusions are most easily understood when divided into ‘agricultural’ and ‘lifestyle’ land.
Whilst property values are influenced by a range of factors and it is therefore difficult to determine if solar farms (or other similar infrastructure) can cause land values on neighbouring agriculture properties to increase or decrease, it is not expected that the Culcairn Solar Farm would affect the productivity of neighbouring agricultural properties.

What are the insurance implications for my nearby property and for the project regarding my property and the broader community?
Neoen will have its own insurance policy in place to provide coverage in the unlikely event that solar farm equipment is damaged by fire. A Bush Fire Management Plan will include procedures to deal with a fire on site, and normally requires water to be kept on site for that specific purpose.
The Environmental Management Strategy will include obligations that prevent the spread of fire across the site (such as grass cutting and an asset protection zone if required).

Neoen understands the concern of adjoining landowners regarding potential damage to a Neoen facility, however, the important elements for consideration are:

  • For an adjoining landowner to have any liability for fires that have spread from their property to the solar farm, it has to be demonstrated that the landowner was negligent in causing damage.
  • The occurance of a fire from a weather event (e.g. a lightning strike) that migrates from the landowner property to Neoen property would not necessarily create a legal liability for the landowner, likewise if there was a heavy rainfall event and water drained from an adjoining property to Neoen facility this again is not necessarily a negligent act of the landowner.

In summary, Neoen has its own insurance and would seem to make claim on that first in the event of fire damage to the solar farm, however Neoen recommends that farmers on nearby properties take all maximum precautions to prevent the ignition and spreading of fires, and seek advice from their insurance providers on individual insurance policy matters.

Health & Culture

Are there any health risks associated with solar farms?
Solar panels are deployed on more than 25% of Australian homes and have been deployed for the past 10 to 15 years on people’s homes in the world. No health issues have been associated with solar panels and the Culcairn Solar Farm would use the same type of technology dispatched across a wider area in a low voltage infrastructure. High voltage infrastructure would remain along the existing transmission line and would not increase health risks.
Is there any risk of chemical leaks from the solar PV?
Because PV panel materials are enclosed, and do not mix with water or vaporize into the air, there is little, if any, risk of chemical releases to the environment during normal use. The most common type of PV panel is made of tempered glass. They pass hail tests, and are regularly installed in Arctic and Antarctic conditions.
Can solar farms’ noise affect local residents?
The project is designed to be compliant with legislated noise requirements, which is validated by acoustic engineers. The design includes setbacks, vegetation screening and situates the project’s substation in the centre of the project site. These measures are incorporated in the project’s design to mitigate potential noise impacts.
Will the project reduce air quality?
Monitoring of dust levels during construction is a basic requirement of each project. Dust generating activities are assessed during windy conditions and are stopped and rescheduled where adequate control of dust generation cannot be achieved.

Visual observation of machinery is undertaken during site inspections in addition to daily pre-start checks which ensure all machinery has appropriate emission control devices, is in good working order and is maintained correctly.

Trucks that spray water to suppress dust will be utilised when required to reduce the impact of dust from the various truck deliveries throughout the construction phase.

Is cultural heritage taken into consideration?
Neoen complies with all legislation, including laws regarding the protection of cultural heritage. A cultural heritage assessment forms part of initial studies as does consultation with local Indigenous groups to ensure cultural heritage is protected.

Environment

Do solar farms impact on flora and fauna?
Neoen engages specialist consultants to undertake detailed flora and fauna surveys to determine the ecological attributes of the land.
On all of our projects, we aim to minimise the impact on flora and fauna by designing projects to be constructed outside areas of high conservation significance and adopting control measures during the construction process. Pre-existing patches of vegetation are retained.
Other mitigation measures include preparing management plans, identifying ‘no-go zones’ within the project site and conducting pre-clearance surveys. Neoen also consults with government departments of environment and biodiversity throughout the development, construction and operational stages of projects, as well as local non-government organisations.
Do solar farms affect farm/domestic animals?
Neoen built, owns and operates the Coleambally, Griffith, Dubbo and Parkes solar farms on multiple properties in New South Wales as well as the Numurkah Solar Farm in Victoria.

Sheep take a couple of days to get used to the site, and then are very comfortable with them – they use the shade from the solar arrays during summer.

Culcairn SF will be able to carry over 10,000 sheep that will graze within the project site; in and around the solar panels.

How do you stop the solar facilities from impacting our landscape?
We acknowledge that solar facilities do impact the visual amenity of its near area, but will work with communities to ensure our solar farms have the least possible detrimental impact on visual amenity. Neoen encourage individuals and groups that have questions about visual impact and remedies to engage with us early.

Overall, we consider that the immediate and long-term benefits which solar farms bring to communities offset any loss of visual amenity.

How does Neoen manage solar panels after they are decommissioned and no longer in use?
Solar panels are manufactured using few components; predominantly aluminium, glass and silicon, and over 90% of a panel’s weight can be recycled. These materials can be separated and captured, for reuse in the manufacture of other products.

Neoen is committed to Project Custodian responsibilities and will ideally implement such recycling practices with a local company, such as Reclaim PV Recycling. Based in Adelaide, Reclaim PV offers a solar waste management/resource recovery solution. This includes logistics and recycling of PV modules, inverters and batteries.

How is any potential fire risk managed?
There is no inherent fire risk attached to Photovoltaic panels or solar farms. There is a cleared vegetation zone around the edges of the solar farms to prevent fire propagation. This is complemented by a strict vegetation management plan.