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Australia’s Push on Digital Innovations: The Sunshine Coast Story

The 15-MW Sunshine Coast Solar Farm is the first solar farm connected to the 33-kV distribution grid in South East Queensland.

Queensland’s Sunshine Coast has transformed from simply being renowned as a captivating vacation spot to an Australian leader in technical innovation and sustainable energy solutions.

This picturesque region of Australia is the Southern Hemisphere’s only location to be named in the Intelligent Community Forum’s Top7 Intelligent Communities of 2019. The global award recognizes those communities which are leading the way in using technology to increase efficiencies, expand opportunities, build inclusive prosperity, tackle social and governance challenges, and enrich their residents’ quality of life.

Sunshine Coast Council has worked in collaboration with a host of partners — local businesses, education providers, public partnerships — to spearhead a string of “nation-first” projects. The goals have been clear: open the region to the world-trade market; enable residents to live sustainably; and protect the region’s beauty for generations to come.

In 2017, Sunshine Coast Council was the first local government in Australia to open a utility-scale solar farm. It was also the first local government in Australia to offset its entire electricity consumption — across all its facilities and operations — from the renewable energy which it generates.

The 15-MW Sunshine Coast Solar Farm is different in three important aspects:

  • It is the first solar farm connected to the 33-kV distribution grid in South East Queensland.
  • It is the first solar farm in Australia to operate at 1500 V, driving efficiency.
  • It is the largest solar farm built anywhere in South East Queensland, which itself is one of the most important regions in the entire country. South East Queensland contains 3.5 million people out of the state's population of 4.8 million. The area covered by South East Queensland includes Queensland's three largest cities: the capital city Brisbane; the Gold Coast; and the Sunshine Coast. It covers 22,420 sq km (8660 sq mi) and incorporates 11 local government areas.

The solar farm reduces carbon emissions by 25,000 tCO2e per year, which is equivalent to the annual emissions of approximately 5400 cars. It will deliver over A$20 million (US$13.5 million) in savings (after costs) for ratepayers from the local council’s lower electricity costs over the next 30 years, therefore reducing pressure on rate rises.

The project’s total cost — approximately A$50 million (US$33.9 million) — is modest which seen in this light: it uses Trina Solar Duomax modules, SMA 1500-V MVPS 2500-kVA power conversion units, and the Schletter TerraGrid Fixed Tilt mounting system, providing a 20° tilt angle to the horizontal.

As the solar farm site is a former sugarcane farm that is subject to flooding, the mounting structures are 4 m (13 ft) high to cope with a 1-in-100 year flood event.

The farm will continue to generate around 30-GWh of electricity each year which is in line with the council’s annual consumption. In its first year of operation, the Sunshine Coast Solar Farm saved the local government A$1.7 million (US$1.15 million) — more than double the amount which had been expected.

The project has won six national and Queensland awards. It generated substantial interest from residents, businesses, community groups, schools, and tertiary institutions in all tiers of the government.

Enabling innovative and larger-scale initiatives, such as the solar farm, is only one small part of the picture, since digital infrastructure is critical to the success of these and other investments. The Sunshine Coast will soon provide the fastest international data and telecommunication connection point from Queensland to Asia. The aim is to provide a significant step-change in the region’s attractiveness as an investment location.

The Sunshine Coast is the first local government in Australia to secure an investment in an international broadband submarine cable network.

The investment totals up to A$35 million (US$23.7 million) in the undersea cable connection from the Sunshine Coast, supporting land-based infrastructure, which is being jointly funded by the Sunshine Coast Council and a A$15 million (US$10.1 million) grant from the Queensland government’s Jobs and Regional Growth Fund. The project is expected to deliver up to 864 new jobs and stimulate A$927 million (US$627.8 million) in new investment in Queensland.

Last September, the council announced it would partner with RTI Connectivity Pty Ltd. to lay a 550-km undersea fiber optic cable to connect the Sunshine Coast to the 9600-km Japan-Guam-Australia South (JGA-S) submarine cable currently being delivered by a consortium led by RTI-C.

At Guam, the JGA-S cable will connect to the SEA-US Cable System, a highly efficient Trans-Pacific cable which will forge connections between South-East Asia and the United States for more than 1.5 billion people.

Construction is underway on the A$6.6 million (US$4.5 million) cable landing station, which is the major land-based facility for the submarine cable network.

The submarine cable landing station, located at Maroochydore, will help deliver Australia’s fastest data and telecommunications connection to Asia from the east coast of Australia and the second fastest to the United States via an undersea fiber optic cable.

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