01/10/2008 - 22:00

Renewable energy firms power on

01/10/2008 - 22:00

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SMALL Western Australian-based renewable energy technology exporters are reaping the rewards of lucrative overseas market opportunities, as the global momentum towards sustainability continues to build.

Renewable energy firms power on

SMALL Western Australian-based renewable energy technology exporters are reaping the rewards of lucrative overseas market opportunities, as the global momentum towards sustainability continues to build.

Jandakot-based Entech Renewable Energy Solutions is one such company, exporting its waste to electricity technology to Asia, Europe and the US.

The company was started 15 years ago in response to the growing problems associated with the disposal of municipal waste in densely populated areas.

That led Entech to devise a renewable energy solution involving the conversion of municipal waste from a solid form to a gas form, similar to methane, which is then fired to generate electricity and fed into the grid.

With 15 staff in WA, Entech is involved in the design, engineering and procurement of small to medium-scale renewable energy projects worldwide, while sub-contracting some manufacturing to another WA company.

"In the past we used to sell the equipment, now we look to build, own and operate our own plants," Entech managing director Neil Martin told WA Business News.

Entech offers standard systems ranging between 1 megawatt and 20MW of generation.

Its international waste to electricity projects include a 4MW project in Municipality of Sri Layang in Malaysia, and a 2.5MW project in Chung Cheng, Taiwain.

In the past financial year, the company generated $18 million in export revenues, up from $12 million the previous year.

Now, Entech is focused on the vast opportunities presented by the north and south American markets, and has just opened a new business in the US, Entech Americas, with the help of a US-based joint venture partner.

That partner, the Carbon Opportunity Fund, will provide the new business with an immediate injection of $50 million to get it started.

"We believe there'll be a tremendous amount of growth there [in the US]," Mr Martin said.

"There are opportunities to do hundreds of systems in the US."

The company already has two potential projects in the pipeline in the Americas. Entech has signed a memorandum of understanding for the construction of a $200 million, 30MW project in South America, which will process 750 tonnes of municipal waste a day.

It has also been selected as one of four technologies worldwide to be used to address the municipal waste problems in Los Angeles, California.

Mr Martin said the company would remain focused on the international market, particularly high-performing markets such as the UK, Germany, Netherlands, and the US.

He believes Australia is still years away from reaching the potential of those international markets, despite the impending emissions trading scheme.

"We believe the Australian market is full of hot air at this point, so we're concentrating on international markets," Mr Martin said.

"Australia is still about five to 10 years away from being serious about what I would call economically viable renewable energy solutions.

"Countries within the EU are placing appropriate legislation that dictates that people need to do the right thing with waste. They also encourage renewable energy by paying a premium for it."

Mr Martin added that landfill in Australia hadn't reach crisis point, as it has in high-density populations centres such as the US and UK, and said disposal fees needing to rise to between $50 and $75 a tonne to make the equipment economically attractive.

WA-based solar hot water heating manufacturers also continue to perform strongly in export markets.

Long-standing WA business and market leader Solahart Industries, part of Japan's Paloma Industries subsidiary, Rheem Australia, achieved export revenues of $32 million in 2007-08 from sales of its solar hot water systems, up from $28 million the previous year.

Edwards Hot Water, also part of Rheem, achieved export revenues of $8 million.

Solahart Industries employs 170 people at its international head office in Welshpool. The company says it has manufactured more than 1 million solar water heaters installed in more than 80 countries.

The increase in incentives for the instalment of renewable energy generation could make such technologies more economically attractive and lead to increased take-up in the domestic market.

Those incentives include government rebates, and the ability for installers to create renewable energy certificates, or RECs.

RECs are essentially an electronic form of currency, which represents the equivalent of 1MW hour of electricity generation from an accredited renewable energy source.

RECs can be traded, with prices generally varying between $30 and $40.

Green energy projects, such as those being developed by Entech, have the ability to generate carbon credits, which can be traded in a global market estimated to be worth $64 billion in 2007.

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