Australia to build world's largest solar energy plant: PM

Sorry for my increasingly rare presence here of late - I've become overly busy at work (so much for my 4 day week, which didn't last long), and my personal life has had a few complications to manage as well.

Given that solar thermal power is pretty much my favourite form of renewable energy and the one I consider to make the greatest contribution to our energy needs in the long term, I can't let the weekend's announcement by PM Rudd about a plan to build a 1 GW power plant go past unnoticed.

Reuters reports the new solar power plant is part of efforts to achieve the new 20% mandatory renewable energy target - Australia to build world's largest solar energy plant: PM. More at Bloomberg.

Australia plans to build the world's largest solar power station with an output of 1000 megawatts in a A$1.4 billion (US$1.05 billion) investment, Prime Minister Kevin Rudd said on Sunday. The plant would have three times the generating capacity of the current biggest solar-powered electricity plant, which is in California, Rudd said during a tour of a power station.

Tender details will be announced later in the year, and successful bidders will be named in the first half of 2010. Rudd said the project was aimed at exploiting the country's ample sunshine, which he called "Australia's biggest natural resource." It was also aimed at helping the country become a leader in renewable, clean energy, he said. ...

The project should eventually lead to a network of solar-powered stations across the country, Rudd said, with locations chosen to fit in with the existing electricity grid and ensure good access to sunshine. "We don't want to be clean energy followers worldwide, we want to be clean energy leaders worldwide." Rudd said.

Yes,Gav,as good as far as it goes but I can't help contrasting this expenditure with that being made on CCS,infrastructure for increased steaming coal exports,massive sums for roads in unnecessary or inappropriate places(like upgrading the Great Western Highway through the Blue Mountains for B Doubles)and the total lack of spending on long distance freight rail.

This money for solar power is not being driven by a belief in global climate change nor by a realization that our current economic model is almost certainly going to crash and burn.
This action by Rudd&Co is merely a sop to increasingly noisy grassroots movements like Climate Action Groups and some of the NGOs.

I hope the activists keep on upping the pressure as this constitutes a threat to the governments political survival.In the end,this is all they understand.

Wrong spin on solar
POWERLINE - The Business Spectator
by Keith Orchison

The Prime Minister of Australia and the media need a reality check on the solar power story.

Over the weekend the ABC and others have reported Kevin Rudd as saying that (1) we plan to invest in the “single largest solar power station in the world” and (2) the project will have the generating capacity of a 1,000 MW coal-fired power station.

Well, no and no.

... the $1.365 billion “solar flagship” program will help to subsidise up to four plants, not one.


Finally, can I note that, in the best tradition of the premier spinners Carr and Beattie, Rudd is managing to conflate the solar project in to a government “$4.65 billion clean energy initiative” at every opportunity. But nearly half the initiative is to promote coal use, a point that has the Greens in a froth over the budget.

It is a good idea to support solar development in this country, but everyone from the Prime Minister down needs to get real about what would be involved in pushing it to a meaningful level.

Not sure I agree with all his quibbles but there are some valid points.

This solar investment also suggests that they would still rather invest in big centralised monuments.

Why not make off peak electric heating more expensive? Make solar hot water mandatory. Make PV solar lighting (ie cheap non grid connected systems) an option for receiving subsidies.

These are incremental doable options. But they lack the Grand Gesture beloved by Rudd (and ilk).

I think they are going for economies of scale in doing this project. I just hope it gets built rather than talked about. The best way of reducing domestic energy use as you say would be to go for solar water heating.

Supposedly the solar project Kevin visited on Sunday at Liddell Power Station has never been used. Apparently it is supposed to pre-heat the water before it goes into the coal fired boilers.

Recently I visited the Snowy Scheme while on holiday. If the politicians these days had that kind of vision a lot more things could get done. Today building a road tunnel, school or hospital seems to be the limit for Rudd and Co these days.

I don't want to get into an argument... but I'm a bit ambivalent about "The Snowy". I don't discount the engineering feats and the character of the people who built it but let's not lose sight of the slogan behind this scheme: "Drought Proof Australia". Well? That didn't work out as planned.

The Snowy Scheme caused massive ecological damage to several river systems and precipitated landscape use changes that have turned out to be unsustainable. Sure, we had a spurt of economic growth for a while in the agricultural sector... but the massive land clearing that accompanied that has also been implicated as a factor helping prolong the "drought" of the past 10 years.

There are farming and grazing areas that would be best returned (if at all possible) to there native state. But this is unpalatable to those who believe in the iconic image of the cocky farmer... or that we can't let these communities "die".

WE should learn from the fact that while the implementation (ie the "doing") was heroically successful, ultimately the "vision" was misguided. And that vision was based on the idealistic presumption that we can engineer nature at will... exceeding it's bounds.

But back to the solar thermal story...

Tender details will be announced later in the year, and successful bidders will be named in the first half of 2010.

Let's give it a go... but it will be almost 5-10 years before anything comes of this. Snap elections not withstanding.

I don't think the philosphy of distributed decentralised power comes easy to a technocrat (control freak?) like Rudd.

Yes. I agree with the comments on the Snowy. I went on the tour of Murray 1 which was an interesting insight for me as an electrical engineer. The electrical power generated is useful and probably displaces a lot of peaking gas fired generation. As an irrigation scheme it isn't successful. The lady leading the tour conceded that the Snowy scheme was designed for a 10 year drought and said they were into the 11th or 12th year now. Also, when I went around (on Easter Sunday I concede) the display panel giving the MW output of the entire scheme was a big round zero.

Back to the topic. These solar thermal stations can be built more quickly than that in the states. I think Nevada Solar One was up within a year. I think Australia and the govt in particular needs to sharpen its act a lot.

I think decentralised power freaks the freaks out as you say. I am waiting for the molten salt thing to be commercially sucessful so some evening storage can be supported so it better matches the evening power demand. Either that or double summertime year round!

Of course it was producing zero power, hydro is used for peak power and insuring industry against very high peak costs of $10 a kWh. The Snowy produces around 4.5GW peak, but only for 25% of the time, in fact it uses off-peak for pumped hydro. When we have replaced coal and NG by solar, geothermal and wind power,the Snowy and Tas hydro will be the jewel in the renewable energy crown. Very cheap batteries.

Maybe... if there is still enough water in the system. That's the pressing climate change issue. And that includes Tassie.

You can't peak nothing with an empty reservoir.

Below is the the last 36 months

To make this clear, The Snowy Hydro scheme is located in the larger red area (upper map) in the south-east of the mainland and the Tassie system is mainly located in the western region.

The recent floods in northern NSW and southern Queensland will do nothing for hydro storage, but may be helpful when the portion of these flows falling to the west of the divide finally finds its way down to the Coorong - where they might help reduce the affects of the recent acid sulfate acidification there.

I have to say that I agree with both of you. As I said it was Easter Sunday when I visited. The drought is very severe over there.

My main point was that the Snowy scheme was an example of what a government can do but no government has though this big for 50 years but I think they they need to otherwise things are going to end up like Mad Max in 50 years here in Oz. As for being pumped storage I think only Tumut 3 is. The water is never returned back to Lake Jindarbyne (which was nearly empty BTW) once it has left.

I hope that no stone is left unturned in Australia in the next 20 years be it river diversions/hydro, solar, shale oil or tidal or whatever in the search for new energy sources.

Hmmm - Lake Jindabyne was almost empty last year because they emptied it so they could work on the dam.

I was there in February and water levels seemed pretty good...

I don't think the philosphy of distributed decentralised power comes easy to a technocrat (control freak?) like Rudd.

Its probably worth keeping in mind that CSP actually is a form of large scale, centralised power generation (whereas PV and thin film solar aren't).

So utilities and governments (or financiers for that matter) probably won't find large scale CSP projects offensive - they are really just a clean form of BAU.

I only found out from reading a plumbing industry magazine last week that in Australia from next year, new houses can only have gas, solar or heat pump hot water systems. Further, from 2012 replacements of existing systems will also have these requirements.
So off peak water heating except for boosting SHWS will diminish in the future.

Bad luck when the gas runs short, eh?

Between peaking and our desperation to export everything we dig up from Australian soil, that day may not be so far away...

And WTF do they think powers a heat pump??? Electricity of course!

I predict a rapid back flip on these design rules. My back-of-envelope calculation says that SHW with an electric boost (even including possible Carbon Taxes, or compulsory Greenpower, and given the likely trajectory of reticulated gas prices after 2012) will still be the most cost-effective setup for a new house over a 20-year life-cycle for the gear.

Bad luck when the gas runs short, eh?

I wouldn't rely on that line of argument - our gas supplies are good for 70 odd years...

in Australia from next year, new houses can only have gas, solar or heat pump hot water systems.

Which is, quite frankly, a bit ridiculous. Your house doesn't care a whit from whence the electrons came, only that they are there. An alternative would be to connect electric hot water to a certain tarrif, and reqire that the electrons supplying that tarrif come from renewable sources.

Further, from 2012 replacements of existing systems will also have these requirements.

So, if your EHW goes pop, you then have to shell out for an entirely new system?!

So, if your EHW goes pop, you then have to shell out for an entirely new system?!

Most failures of hot water system is the tank developing a leak which means replacement. However, if an element or a thermostat fails then I am sure you would be able to get replacements.
The replacement costs may not be so bad - currently in Sydney companies are advertising solar HWS for $350 after rebates which is cheaper than a conventional HWS!

Lets think systematically.
Evey solar hot water system installed (electric hot water booster or no) also reduces the strength of the baseload power arguemnt.

Those cheap tariffs are there for a reason.
We heat our hot water using electicity at night why?

Not because we have no choice.