With a target of over 100 piles per day, and strict accuracy requirements, initial scepticism turned to delight when a contractor trialled a new pile driver at Central West Queensland’s Barcaldine Solar Farm and was able to double the quota and finish the job six weeks early.
Civil and Allied Technical Construction (CATCON) had previously experienced issues with speed, accuracy, and damage to piles due to inefficient piling equipment at the Moree Solar Farm in northern New South Wales. To solve these problems at the Barcaldine Solar Farm, they chose Vermeer’s PD10 laser-guided solar pile driver for the project.
11,000 piles in 90 days
The Barcaldine Remote Community Solar Farm is a 25MW photovoltaic solar project owned by Elecnor Australia.
The project has been designed using single-axis tracking technology, which allows the solar panels to tilt, move, and follow the sun as it crosses the sky for maximum accumulation of clean renewable power.
The farm is expected to generate 53,500MWh of clean, renewable power each year, reducing greenhouse gas emissions by around 50,000 tonnes per annum. It will cover 93 hectares of land.
Construction of the project includes 11,000 4m and 4.8m piles, and 79,000 solar modules. Each solar module is 3m wide and sits 2m above the ground.
The project brief outlined that the 11,000 piles had to be driven approximately 2m into the ground with less than 5mm variance in spacing, vertically plum, and within height variances of 4mm. This had to be done at a rate of at least 120 piles a day.
Meeting requirements with the PD10
The Vermeer PD10 laser-guided solar pile driver was used to successfully install piles at the Barcaldine Solar Farm. The PD10 is an easy-to-use, laser and GPS-enabled pile driver with an integrated control system that allows users to see important information, including pile height, angle, and engine readings at the touch of a button.
It features fast tracking for faster cycle time, ergonomic dual joystick control, one-touch auto plumb button, and wide track pads for reduced site disturbance.
The machine is also enabled with Vermeer InSite, a tool that allows the contractor to see vital information from the computer in their office, such as idle time, work time, fuel usage, and machine location.
Anthony O’Grady, Queensland Area Sales Manager Construction Equipment at Vermeer, said most pile drivers on the market were initially designed to install road barriers, which utilise piles of only a couple of metres in length.
While some other pile drivers just had height added to their stems, Mr O’Grady said Vermeer built a machine designed around the unique requirements of solar pile installation.
“One of the biggest problems with pile driving is that machines tend to damage the top of the pile, taking off any coating to stop rust, and mushrooming the top of it.
“The Vermeer PD10 has a special bash plate designed to give the heavy knock that the piles need without damaging them,” Mr O’Grady said.
Speed and accuracy on all terrain
When the PD10 arrived onsite at the Barcaldine Solar Farm, CATCON still had reservations when it came to claims regarding the accuracy and speed of the machine.
“Due to past challenges they had with pile drivers, when I told them about the accuracy and speed of the PD10, they were extremely sceptical,” Mr O’Grady said.
Because of these reservations, a backhoe and auger was initially brought in as a backup to drill holes on terrain that the contractor believed the PD10 would not be able to manage.
However, when the trial began, the PD10 had put in all six piles, plum, within 2mm of spacing and within 1-2mm of height in the same amount of time that the auger bore had drilled one foot of its first hole. Precise pile placement is very important, as panel motors are later mounted on them.
“CATCON was very happy with the results, they couldn’t believe the speed and accuracy,” Mr O’Grady said.
However, the supervisor still had some doubts, and asked for a demonstration on hard terrain.
“We drove the machine over to the hard ground with a pile, directly next to the area where they were using the auger borer. The auger borer had only been able to drill half a metre in 30 minutes, whereas in 60 seconds we had a pile 2m in the ground,” Mr O’Grady said.
Mr O’Grady said the contractor’s confidence continued to grow as the machine was able to put in more and more piles each day with accuracy.
Elecnor was expecting 120 piles a day. The PD10 was able to achieve 290 a day on the project.
All piles were put in six weeks ahead of schedule, within tolerances (sometimes within 1mm) and with almost no damage to, or mushrooming of, the pile head.
Mr O’Grady and Vermeer project support team members Simon Coles, Richard Punter, and Colin Maginnis spent five days on site training the operator and supervisor on how to best utilise the machine’s capabilities.
The PD10 has run smoothly since its trial and due to its speed, accuracy and reduction in pile damage, CATCON has purchased two PD10 Pile Drivers.
Mr O’Grady said as most solar farms are located in remote areas, Vermeer’s Australia-wide dealerships and mobile technicians can provide a level of product support that other brands cannot, giving contractors an advantage when using the PD10.
Mr O’Grady said he believed Vermeer’s role in the future of solar farms would be significant.
“We offer a wide variety of specialised machinery used in the construction of solar farms, including trenchers for underground cable installation, electronic utility locators and vacuum excavators,” Mr O’Grady said.
“The PD10 has been a standout for contractors because it allows projects to move forward ahead of schedule without sacrificing accuracy.
“Australia is becoming a leader in solar power, and Vermeer is excited to be able to make the construction of solar farms more efficient.”
This partner content is brought to you by Vermeer. For more information visit https://www.vermeer.com.au/.