After more than three years of research and development, renewable energy start-up 5B has found a ready market for its prefabricated, low-cost “Maverick” solar array.
Within three months of launching to market, around 170 kilowatts worth of systems have already been deployed to customers. Around a further 830 KW is also in the process of being fabricated, co-founder and chief executive Chris McGrath told The Fifth Estate.
Systems have been installed at a quarry in Mittagong, a vineyard in the Hunter Valley and a farm at Robertson.
The company has also leased a system on a short-term basis in partnership with Green Power Solutions to RCR Tomlinson, which is constructing the 60 megawatt Gannawarra solar farm in Victoria.
GPS provided a biodiesel generator and battery component that has been combined with the solar array to provide a hybrid temporary site power solution. The system was deployed in just three hours by a crew of two.
Leasing the systems on a short-term basis of under a year is a new business model for the solar sector, he said.
“It is possible because the system is so readily redeployable.”
The system is entirely portable, and a 12 kW MAV unit can be packed up for transport to a new site in less than 10 minutes.
A system of up to one megawatt for a million-dollar solar farm can be installed by a small team in under a week.
Prefabrication is part of the product’s edge, as this removes the majority of costly on-site installation requirements and reduces project risk, Mr McGrath said.
He said that while construction has been embracing prefab for around a decade now, solar has been slow to adopt the approach.
The market demand is such that the company’s workforce in its Alexandria factory has grown from four people at the end of last year to 15 in the past six months.
The solar modules are imported, but the rest of the components are Australian-made. The aluminium extrusions are fabricated on the central coast using aluminium from the Tomago smelter.
The pre-cast concrete elements come from Port Kembla.
Anodising and machining is performed by Sydney-based suppliers, and the company manufactures all the cables and tethers and undertakes the assembly in-house.
Mr McGrath said it is satisfying for the company’s founders to be able to provide a stable, safe and high-quality workplace environment for workers in the solar sector.
Having a central workplace, rather than working across varying project sites is a plus.
The company has also joined forces with an Indigenous employment agency and an asylum seeker employment agency to provide a number of roles for Indigenous people and asylum-seekers.
“It is really important to be able to provide quality employment and training opportunities in urban areas [for disadvantaged people],” Mr McGrath said.
The factory currently has an annual capacity of 30 MW of completed MAV units, however he said this will be “ramping up” to meet demand that was currently strong for this year and next.
According to Mr McGrath the technology is likely to be particularly attractive to large-scale and remote energy, mining and infrastructure projects, as well as power generators and solar farm construction contractors.
It can also have benefits for any business looking for a quick solution to rising energy costs.
The system is also readily compatible with energy storage, so businesses can save the extra energy they produce.