Dithering Australia leaves promising solar future in the dark  

Posted by Big Gav in , ,

The Age has an article on the lack of support for solar thermal power in Australia - Dithering Australia leaves promising solar future in the dark.

AUSTRALIAN support for the solar industry is faltering just as the technology promises to deliver baseload power.

Recent breakthroughs in concentrating solar power technology allow heat energy to be stored almost indefinitely — in molten salts — and dispatched as needed.

The Andasol parabolic trough solar thermal plant near Guadiz in Spain, developed and operated by German company Solar Millennium (which has an Australasian joint venture with Leighton Contractors), generates 50 megawatts (MW) of clean electricity, with enough storage to run for 7.5 hours without sun and around the clock in summer.

There's plenty more coming, with Bloomberg reporting 14,000MW of solar thermal power stations are in the pipeline in Spain alone. That's enough clean power to run NSW, according to Matthew Wright, of Melbourne-based advocacy group Beyond Zero Emissions.

In the US, SolarReserve and a division of giant defence contractor United Technologies plan a series of solar thermal "power towers" in the Californian desert — generating between 50MW and 300MW each — again using molten salts to store energy and able to run 15 hours without sun.

Even better solar technology is being developed here, at the Australian National University, using super-heated ammonia to store energy. A company called Wizard Power is in a joint venture with ANU to commercialise the process.

John Grimes, chief executive of the Australian New Zealand Solar Energy Society, fears a bitter replay of earlier brain drains.

"Australian scientists and research and development are at the leading edge of the world," he says. "What we lack is government support to commercialise and capitalise on that research. We will be the dumb consumers of the technology that we invented."

The Australian Government has shown this month that it is all over the place when it comes to solar energy policy.

On a positive note, it surprised many when the May budget allocated $1.35 billion to part-fund construction of up to four solar power stations generating up to 1000MW each.

But Grimes is concerned that, amid continuing uncertainty over the Government's renewable energy target (RET) and emissions trading scheme — and in the wake of the financial crisis — it will be difficult to raise the matching private capital needed to get those projects off the ground.

Investor confidence would not be helped by the latest triple whammy of abrupt decisions. The popular $8000 means-tested solar rebate was unilaterally dumped by Environment Minister Peter Garrett on June 11, a fortnight ahead of schedule, leaving many suppliers, installers and home owners in the lurch.

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