Solar Centre, Alice Springs

8 April 2010 – A company that runs one of the most highly regarded solar power system testing stations in the world at Alice Springs is casting its wings offshore.

The Centre for Appropriate Technology recently signed a commission for the Bushlight India Project which is delivering sustainable and renewable energy services to remote Indian villages.

CAT chairman Jim Bray said the overseas consulting work meant the company which started life 28 years ago to design sustainable solutions for remote indigenous communities in Australia, will leverage the intellectual property and knowledge built up over its large-scale commercial projects.

The company has already designed and installed one of Australia’s largest solar installations, a 305 kW solar generator at the Crowne Plaza Hotel at Alice Springs and is also managing the delivery of the $14 million Aquatic and Leisure Centre in the town.

“We have been asked more and more to work on unique solutions throughout remote Australia and overseas because of our experience in remote regions, and the creation of a professional engineering consultancy seemed like a natural progression,” Mr Bray said.

At CAT’s Australian Solar Centre, part of Desert Knowledge Australia on the outskirts of Alice Springs, the company has already forged a global reputation for its highly regarded facility for testing a range of solar panels inverters and photovoltaic systems that are considered unique.

CAT general manager Lyndon Frearson told The Fifth Estate during a visit last year that there are a number of reasons for the centre’s suitability for testing the systems.

“One is that it is a very harsh environment so it pushes the operation limits for the solar panels and the inverters beyond what they would normally see in the countries they are developed in.”

Germany and Japan are the two leading solar technology developers, he explained, with America coming in third – but all are countries where the conditions are considered relatively benign compared with Australia, Mr Frearson said.

One of the biggest quests for manufacturers was to obtain more energy per square metre for products.

Another was to focus on the cost of manufacture.

“If [a type of panel] is cheap enough then it doesn’t matter if it’s more efficient because it will become ubiquitous,” Frearson said.

Results are monitored live on a website.

“There’s a lot of universities that will test individual panels and certify them, but there is nowhere else where you can find in one site a live set of data that is showing you the real system performance,” Mr Frearson said.

“And when I say system I am referring the PV [photovoltaic] panels and wires and inverters, and that’s because the reality is that none of these components operate by themselves so it’s important to measure the system not the individual components.”

Information can be accessed in simple format so that “any member of the public”  can see performance, or ramped up to “1.5 gigabytes of data, if you are so inclined,” Mr Frearson said.

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