Toyota’s Big Solar Project

When The Australian division of Toyota Motor Corporation decided to install an industrial-scale photovoltaic solar power system in Melbourne, they turned to Autonomous Energy. The project ultimately produced a 500 kW system installed on the Powertrain Factory building at the car maker’s Altona North plant.

This major solar undertaking got started in 2013 following extensive planning, design, and engineering preparation. The system was completed and activated in May of 2014. This large-scale system represents several firsts for the Australian solar industry. The individual solar panels used for the installation are Kyocera, the voltage network is Toyota’s own, and the inverter/transformer is a groundbreaking centralized unit created by ABB.

The new Toyota installation becomes Australia’s third-largest roof mounted PV system, and the largest PV system of any kind located in Victoria. The successful completion of this project depended in large part upon the professional and technical expertise displayed by the Autonomous Energy team.


Technical Details of the Project

Many factors of this massive undertaking presented new challenges that required creative solutions. Many of these problems fell outside the realm of ordinary solar power installations, but they were nevertheless overcome to complete the Toyota array as promised.

As one example, simply installing PV modules on the roof of the factory required a serious overhaul of the access routes available on the roof. Autonomous Energy ended up constructing more than a kilometre of brand new walkways to make the new array accessible.

A delicate balance had to be maintained throughout all parts of the installation project that respected the safety both of our own installation teams and the Toyota employees working inside the building. Moving equipment onto the roof, for instance, required careful coordination with the factory’s production schedule to avoid interrupting ongoing work.

Even the pure logistics of handling the large number of PV modules required called for innovative solutions. Panels were stored on the roof prior to installation, which required the construction of custom stillages designed and placed to ensure a safe distribution of weight down to the factory structure below. Custom trolleys were also designed to maneuver individual solar modules around the new rooftop walkways with minimal risk of injury or equipment damage.

Each string of solar modules tied into the larger system had to be electrically isolated by an ABB combiner box to allow it to be taken out of the system for maintenance. The combiner boxes were mounted in custom-built frames that are adjustable to match the heights of the building’s different roof sections. The power cables running throughout the system had to be clearly and consistently labeled to make it feasible to identify and maintain individual strings.

Toyota’s Specific Safety Concerns

Safety management is one of the areas of industrial practice where Toyota enjoys a well-earned reputation as a world leader. This is why Autonomous Energy developed a unique plan for managing Health and Safety throughout the solar installation process. Solar professionals, in-house safety experts, and outside consultants were all called in to ensure that every aspect of the installation project was made as safe as possible.