Here comes the sun: Effective delivery of large-scale solar

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The Darlington Point Solar Farm is a 333MW single-axis tracking project located approximately 10km south of the town of Darlington Point in western New South Wales. Solar Farm Constructions is one of the project contractors, and the business prides itself on delivering leading solar piling solutions, stemming from the skills and training of its staff, the precision of its equipment and the quality of its machinery. Its fleet of Vermeer PD10 solar pile drivers are crucial to ensuring consistent results over the life of a project and have been designed specifically to meet the unique needs of large-scale solar installation.

Set to be one of the largest solar farms in Australia, the Darlington Point Solar Farm occupies 1,993 acres of former grazing land adjacent to TransGrid’s Darlington Point substation at Donald Ross Drive.

It is jointly owned by Octopus Investments and Edify Energy, and has an approximate capital cost of $450 million. A power purchase agreement has been entered into with Delta Electricity for the supply of 150MW of renewable energy.

Generation is expected to start in 2020 and once operational, the solar farm will generate 685,000MWh per annum, which is enough to power around 115,000 households.

Luke McDonald from CableNet Industries and Tom McMinn from Rich River Pile Driving have teamed up to form Solar Farm Constructions, which provides solar pile installation services as well as piling, horizontal boring and trenching packages.

The company was recently engaged to carry out a section of the piling at the Darlington Point Solar Farm.

The right foundations for a successful project

As piles are the foundation upon which a ground-mounted solar panel system is built, having access to the right pile driver is crucial to ensure the piles are installed correctly.

Solar Farm Constructions has six Vermeer PD10 pile drivers all fitted with Carlson PDGrade GPS software in its fleet – with the PD10 considered the most advanced pile driver on the market.

The machine’s design ensures reliability and safety, and features a powerful hammer. Paired with the Carlson PDGrade system, the Vermeer PD10 pile driver also offers a high level of accuracy and automation, and is capable of meeting strict tolerances.

“After operating Vermeer machinery for 17 years, we understand the importance of premium reliability and service in successfully delivering a project.

The PD10 hammers piles into most ground conditions without any pre-drilling, sanding or concreting,” Luke McDonald, Managing Director at Solar Farm Constructions, said.

“Such installation provides the most cost-effective and timely installation of ground mount piles. The solar pile driving industry is driven by key performance criteria (KPIs), and our machines enable us to deliver projects on time and to a high quality.”

Safety and support as standard

No job is too big for the Vermeer PD10 pile driver, which can install piles up to 230mm in diameter, 6m deep, in a range of ground conditions.

Vermeer’s PD10 is the only solar pile driver that features standard operator Roll Over Protection and is compliant with all Australian safety regulations. It also has a seated operator’s station, reducing fatigue for operators working long hours in the harsh, remote environments that are typical of Australian solar farms.

Solar Farm Constructions has a long-standing relationship with Vermeer through its other businesses, Rich River Pile Driving, Rich River Horizontal Boring and CableNet Industries, purchasing a number of horizontal directional drills, vacuum excavation trucks, track trenchers and rock saws in addition to its trusted PD10 solar pile drivers.

“Vermeer is a major part of keeping our machines running, and the skills of our staff are matched by the technical and mechanical abilities of our machines and software. As a result, our piles are installed accurately and safely,” Mr McDonald said.

“Other project efficiency benefits include the large amount of spare parts Vermeer always has in stock, its national presence and helpful east coast support service.

“The sales team keep in contact to make sure everything is going well throughout the projects, which makes for a positive all-round experience.”

With the Carlson PDGrade GPS system, piling contractors can benefit from high accuracy navigation and positioning, and easy-to-use software that offers a variety of features, such as navigation to pile, pile location, as-builts and production reports.

The system also increases safety, as it requires less people to be near the machines when erecting piles.

The software is combined with a state-of-the-art, all-in-one, GNSS integrated sensor and a rugged, Windows-based control box, and offers a laser distance option (for piling to an elevation, contour or pile depth) to complete the machine guidance system.

The benefits of the Carlson PDGrade GPS system include:

  • Reduced piling costs from anywhere between $2.85 – $8 per pile
  • Improved productivity (up to 20 per cent)
  • Improved efficiency as pile location is automatically located by the machine, minimising set up time and human error
  • Improved accuracy within a 15mm tolerance – the flow-on effect of this is improved framing and panelling times
  • Reduced surveying requirements and costs, thanks to the system’s high level of accuracy
  • Work as a standalone system or as part of a fleet environment with multiple machines
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