It’s common to see homes with solar panels attached to the roof. Less common is solar in commercial premises. But the trend is changing with large-scale commercial solar projects taking off. The Wheatbelt is leading the way with pioneering solar generation systems popping up.


Northam boasts the first solar car park in Western Australia and, at the time of writing, it is largest built environment solar structure in the state.
The 900 panel solar array at the Northam Boulevard Shopping Centre does double duty–providing shelter from the elements for shoppers and generating power. The installation will generate over one million kilowatt-hours a year, equating to 40% of the shopping centre’s annual electricity.
Why not download a compass app and make some observations about the planning of the car park installation? Need some information to help you interpret the reason for the orientation? Check out the information below about how solar power works.
If you can’t make it to Northam to see the array for yourself, you can view the development process in this snappy time lapse video.
The car park solar installation is just the first of this type of project in the region, with more in development. There are private solar farms planned for properties in the Shires of Northam and Cunderdin. More are sure to follow suit to take advantage of the benefits of the sunny climate.

Shining a light on solar

Solar energy generation is not a new concept. In 1839 French physicist, Edmund Bequerel, first recorded his observations of the photoelectric effect. He realised that some materials generated a small electric current when exposed to light.
Bell Laboratories developed the first photovoltaic module in 1954 but it didn’t gain traction beyond novelty factor as it was considered too expensive to scale up.
The 1960s saw the space industry explore the potential of solar and this really boosted the viability of the energy source. In the 1970s photovoltaic technology developed further and began to be used in other industries.
Solar power is generated through the use of photovoltaic (solar) cells. Cells are made of a thin wafer of semiconductor material (such as silicon) and treated to create an electric field. Each cell has a positive and negative side. As light energy falls on the solar cells, electrons are knocked from the atoms in the semiconductor material. By attaching electrical conductors to the positive and negatives sides, an electrical circuit is formed. Through this process, the electrons are transformed into an electric current.
Individual solar cells are connected together within a structure or frame to create a photovoltaic module. The modules can be designed to meet specific voltage requirements, such as a 12 volts system. To create a photovoltaic module, individual solar cells are connected together within a structure or frame. By assembling cells together, modules can be designed to meet specific voltage requirements, such as a 12 volts system.
Solar cells are used to generate power in all kinds of place–you probably have some powering a calculator at home! But scaling up from a calculator to powering a home or workplace involves more than just tacking some panels on a roof.
To get the best effect from any solar installation, it’s important to consider orientation and angle of inclination. In the Southern Hemisphere, the sun predominately shines from the North, so solar panels should face as close as possible to true North. The further away from this orientation the panel is, the less efficiently it will generate power.
The angle of inclination refers to the angle in relation to the latitude of the location. Depending on the seasonal power needs of the location, it may be better to tilt it slightly less than the latitude (for heavy summer usage) or slightly more (for heavy winter usage).
For many installations that are added on to existing buildings, it is more cost effective to add an extra panel or two, rather than build frames to attach to the roof to change the angle of inclination. But for installations like the Boulevard Solar Array, working with a blank canvas means that the structure can be tailored for optimum power generation.

Where to find it

Northam Boulevard Shopping Centre Car Park, corner of Wellington and Grey Street, Northam.

Nearby Services

Northam Visitors Centre
2 Grey Street Northam
Phone: 9622 2100