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5B plans module fab facility in Adelaide

5B – the Australian solar plant innovators who are revolutionising the way the solar industry thinks about PV installations – has announced plans to set up a production facility in Adelaide, and is even looking at a “gigawatt” production line in Asia.

The company was established two years ago by some young engineers who used to work at Infigen Energy, and it specialises in a unique rapid installation, fully deployable solar array that is challenging established project development methods.

5B boasts of being able to install 100kW of ground mounted solar in a single morning – with just two people – and a “megawatt a week” through its appropriately named “Maverick” solution.

It has previously targeted off-grid and temporary installations, but is now looking to enter the large-scale utility market.

5B stands for 5 billion years, the estimated life-time of the sun – and co-founder Chris McGrath describes the company as “technologists, innovators and disruptors” whose inspiration came from a “lightbulb moment” in 2013 when they were installing a pilot solar plant at Infigen’s Capital wind farm.

5B is now looking to install a 500kW facility at the same location, and is partnering with Adelaide-based IXL – an auto-parts manufacturer that has now moved into solar – to create a manufacturing line where the arrays can be “pre-fabricated” before being trucked out to installation site.

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The company currently has a facility in inner Sydney that has a 30MW capacity (annual), but the Adelaide facility will lift that capacity four fold, and put it closer to some project opportunities, as well as employing some former GM car workers.

McGrath describes the installation technique as “stop, drop and roll”, or a “solar farm in a box”, and in the past few months it has been used to provide temporary power at large-scale solar projects such as Ganawarra and Swan Hill.

Now 5B wants to move into that utility market on its own account.

“2018 is going to be an exciting and pivotal year as we enter the utility-scale solar market,” he says. Not only is 5B’s technology fully redoployable, it is also turning out to be among the cheapest.

The company, which RenewEconomy first profiled early last year, made a public splash by rolling out its technology in front of Customs House in Sydney last July.

McGrath argues that because the price of solar modules will continue to fall – a prediction shared by UNSW solar guru Martin Green – the focus will not be so much on maximising yield, but getting it to the field in the lowest-cost and fastest way possible. 5B says pre-fabricated is the answer.

The idea of a “gigafactory” – the term that Tesla made popular for its large battery manufacturing plant, but is now used for anything “big” in solar and storage – could be applied to Asia, Africa, or the Americas.

“We see the possibility of having local and regional hubs,” McGrath says. “We are talking to the (major players) now.”

It could end up having an “additional line” at a major solar module manufacturing plant, where the modules are installed on the racking systems, and loaded into containers. Remarkably, the modules and racking are designed in a way that takes up little more volume than solar modules alone.

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The Infigen installation, which should be done before Christmas, is being used to demonstrate the company’s shift beyond the commercial and industrial (C&I) sector. “This is going to challenge people’s perceptions,” he says. “We do move very fast.”

McGrath says the technology is fast approaching that of single axis tracking on a LCOE (levellised cost of energy basis). Although the modules do not tilt towards the equator, that means fewer losses at lower latitudes, but around 8 per cent losses around Sydney.

But the lower cost of installations exceed the reduction in yield.

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