Solar thermal Australia's one remaining opportunity for industry leadership

The Australian is not renowned for progressive pieces on our renewable industry, but the article last month 'Solar sector held back by foggy energy policy,' deserves some more publicity.

The government is driving the solar industry to the point of exasperation because of the lack of clarity, constant changes, and delays in its policy for supporting large-scale solar development.

The industry has already urged the government to rework its Solar Flagships program, after pointing out that the $1.5 billion scheme unveiled in May was ill-conceived, unworkable and simply wasn't enough to fund the 1000MW target.

The [Solar Flagships] conference was addressed by Resources Minister Martin Ferguson, who again rejected feed-in tariffs. He pointed to the experience in Germany, where he said feed-in tariffs to support rooftop solar and the like had cost the country $1bn a year for less than 1 per cent of its energy needs. But the solar industry points out that was never the point of the scheme in a country with such lousy solar conditions. Germany now possesses the intellectual property and the manufacturing and export capacity that is expected to make it one of the three dominant global players in an industry that will be worth tens of billion dollars a year. It now has 50,000 employees in the solar industry. Australia, with the best solar conditions in the world, and the home of some of its best technological developments, has little more than 1000, and no manufacturing capacity to speak of.

Grimes says Australia had the chance to be a global leader in roof-top and small-scale solar photovoltaics, but lost it. "We are now a consumer of those products from Germany and China. Solar thermal is our one remaining opportunity for industry leadership. It's ours to capture or lose. Let's see if we can learn from history and do better."

The full article from The Australian is well worth a read.

And the foggy policy continues with the latest news that the NSW Government is slashing its Feed In Tariff (FIT) from 60 cents to 20 cents. I am, as the Australian Solar Energy Society have said, "disappointed that the NSW Government continues to develop a boom and bust approach towards the solar industry".

If only we had a Federal Goverment that wasn't so totally absorbed with their 'dig it up and ship it out' mentality and instead had the vision like Germany to make something out of our world class ideas and renewable resources.

This news from the USA, is topical :

Developed by Solar Millennium, the 1,000MW (1GW) plant, known as the Blythe Solar Power Project, is set to become the largest solar power facility in the world. It will be located in Riverside County, California and will become the first parabolic trough solar facility approved on U.S. public land.

A coup for Solar Millennium, and perhaps Ausra was distracted by the Areva takeover ?

There is no mention of storage, in the 1GW plans.

The Blythe Solar Project, is a $6 billion project, and they say
Through the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, Solar Millennium is eligible to secure $1.9 billion in conditional loan guarantees from the U.S. Department of Energy for this project.

So in the USA, $1.9B in conditional loan guarantees is enough to launch a $6B project ?

Re this news:

The NSW Government today announced that effective midnight tonight the gross feed in tariff in NSW would be slashed from 60 cents to 20 cents.

Such large and abrupt changes are just foolish, and no way to 'seed' an industry.

A FIT of 60c is not terribly bright either, but such policies should have a planed abatement rate, not a reflex one.

Certainly I agree that the opportunity for solar PV technology leadership has gone (if it was ever there).
Personally I find solar thermal more interesting. The use of the molten salt storage to improve the capacity factor beyond daylight hours must have more wider application. The question as always is the cost.

It will be interesting to see how the recent approvals in the US progress. Solar Reserve is building two plants with heat storage RiceSolar and CrescentDunes.

CSIRO are also developing solar thermal without steam turbines at Newcastle.

The 60 cents/kwh gross feed in tariff in NSW was probably unsustainable.This should have been obvious to the number crunchers before it was introduced but maybe they were over ruled by the corrupt and incompetent NSW government.Now they have done a lot of damage to the solar PV industry and many will no doubt lose their jobs - just another clusterfuck.

That said,grid connected domestic solar PV installations are questionable in terms of their cost versus benefits to the grid and also they create problems with controlling the grid.This also applies(more so)to larger scale solar and wind installations connected to the grid.Base load power still has to be provided 24/7 and large scale storage is questionable technically and environmentally and probably not economically scaleable.

Solar PV/thermal and wind have practical applications in areas remote from the grid.In Australia there are many of these places and they currently use diesel generators in the main.

If Australia is to have any hope of getting coal fired generation off the map in the next 20 to 30 years then we must build Gen 2 & 3 nuclear reactors as quickly as possible with Gen 4 in the planning stages.Gen 4 technology burns fuel almost completely compared to the low level of use in the current once through reactors.The waste volume from a Gen 4 is miniscule and has a much shorter half life so waste storage is not a significant problem.Nuclear power,even with current commercially available technology, is a proven, safe,non polluting and economical solution to electricity generation,especially when compared to the gross pollution,atmospheric as well as toxic terrestrial waste, caused by burning coal.

Unfortunately,while governments and other interested parties in Australia subscribe to the irrational and emotive Caldicot mentality then we will see more damage being done to the nation's energy future.

Cobwebs fall on an old skipping record...

If we are serious about climate change and energy security, we would implement a price on carbon and allow all technologies to compete, including CCGT, solar thermal, solar PV, wind, nuclear, geothermal and everything else. The central issue is how do we retire coal assets, and to date, I am not aware of anywhere in the world in which the installation of solar PV, solar thermal or wind has allowed a coal plant to be de-commissioned - I would be happy to be given links to any evidence of where this has happened.

Even Germany has plans for dozens more coal plants and is delaying the retirement of nuclear plants because the huge capital expenditure on renewables has not translated into firm capacity despite managing to reduce overall emissions. Denmark is still heavily reliant on coal and its neighbour's hydro for backup. The intermittent technologies still require backup or storage to provide power 24/365 and smart grids cannot provide sufficient demand reduction to overcome this basic property.

Here in Tasmania the net metering for residential PV at standard rates has always been under 20c per kwh. However they've changed the daily fixed connection fee so you have to produce a consistent surplus even in winter just to stay ahead. Thus it's not only no feed-in tariff but almost no point.

I have no problem with concentrating solar thermal provided it is only helped by a carbon price, not subsidies. The levelised cost should include overnight storage, new transmission if any to the outback and gas backup requirement. I don't think that can get down to 20c a kwh retail. Black coal fired electricity will be handicapped about 5.5c a kwh by the proposed $23 carbon tax. However governments are likely to distort the market by
- combining subsidies (REC, FIT) with carbon tax ie two bites at the cherry for green energy
- allowing generous deductions from carbon tax ie more giveaways for brown energy.

My fear is that any solar thermal for Australia will be mainly for show purposes and not a serious attempt at round the clock electricity supply.

Why do we need solar energy?
We have iron ore.
We dig it up and sell it to China.

Then we use the profits to borrow as much as can to compete for McMansions, complete with marble top arse magnets to bamboozle bimbos.

And the bimbos think that is where it is all at. They watch their friends, see what is going on in the sex market.

Australians have become a nation of strokers.

It is all about sex.
It always has been.
Until it's not.
Then it's about food.