14/10/2010 - 00:00

Solar needs to step up

14/10/2010 - 00:00

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THE world’s best renewable energy resource lies largely untouched at the top end of the state, despite Western Australia having the lion’s share of solar radiation in the country, according to the WA Sustainable Energy Association.

Solar needs to step up

THE world’s best renewable energy resource lies largely untouched at the top end of the state, despite Western Australia having the lion’s share of solar radiation in the country, according to the WA Sustainable Energy Association.

WA also has a highly prospective range of other renewable energy resources, including geothermal, biomass, wind, tidal, wave and hydro.

“If you laid a geographical overlay on the planet and looked into building an industrial precinct that overlaps with a renewable energy resource, you’d get the Pilbara, but we’re not doing it,” WA SEA chief executive Ray Wills told the WA Business News forum.

In fact, solar energy accounts for about 2 per cent of electricity generation in WA, according to the Office of Energy, with no large-scale solar project yet to get off the ground.

Looking around the state, wind power accounts for two thirds of renewable energy output, with numerous operating facilities dotted along the coast from Exmouth to Esperance.

And the dominance of wind is only going to get greater following the launch near Merredin of the Collgar Wind Farm, which is scheduled to open in 2012, generating an estimated 267 megawatts.

MidWest Energy managing director Richard Harris, who heads up the proposed 200MW Perenjori solar thermal project told WA Business News in a separate interview that wind power would largely contribute to the 20 per cent national renewable energy target.

“This is because wind is the most advanced renewable technology – it’s been around for 30 years and is not much more expensive in terms of electricity generated than gas or coal,” he said.

“But you don’t want to have just wind in the renewable portfolio, because you don’t want to be relying on when the wind blows; there’s a limit to how much you can

generate.”

According to the energy industry, WA is in a unique position to develop off-grid type technologies because two thirds of the state’s energy consumption is off-grid. But limited venture capital funding is constraining the sector.

Mr Harris said WA should look to Europe, which has large-scale feed-in tariffs for renewable energy, meaning the government doesn’t necessarily have to foot the bill.

“Germany is way ahead of us – it has about 8000MW of solar power installed and a large-scale feed-in tariff, which encourages more large scale projects,” he said.

“And this is a much more efficient way of doing it because it’s a lot more cheaper per unit of electricity; if we’re serious about wanting cleaner energy and replacing fossil fuels, then we need to go large scale.”

The largest operating renewable energy projects in WA are the 89MW Alinta Wind Farm located at Walkaway, 25 kilometres south-east of Geraldton, and the 80MW Emu Downs Wind Farm 30km east of Cervantes.

The wind farms dwarf the state’s solar output, which is 10MW in total. Yet this is set to double with the announcement last month of a $58 million Verve-managed solar project in the Mid West that is expected to be operational in late 2011.

The public-private partnership will be partly funded by a $20 million state government contribution, including $10 million from the Royalties for Regions fund, and will have the potential to be expanded up to 40MW.

“It’s a nice start and I guess the government’s doing it because they want to be seen to be [in renewables],” Mr Harris said.

“But there’s enough private sector people out there wanting to do large-scale projects and the government needs to look at how to encourage them.”

 

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