Australasian Science: Australia's authority on science since 1938

Solar for the Outback

By Stephen Luntz

Modest-sized solar thermal plants could save almost $1 billion in investment that is otherwise required to upgrade electricity transmission to regional towns, with major reductions in carbon emissions a bonus.

The full text of this article can be purchased from Informit.

Concentrated Solar Thermal (CST) power, where mirrors focus heat to boil a material, is substantially more expensive than photovoltaic (PV) panels or wind turbines but it has the advantage of offering relatively cheap storage. Of the 3 GW installed worldwide, the majority comes with storage, sometimes enough to run on full power through the night.

CST has much greater economies of scale than PV, so the trend internationally is towards larger systems. However, a new study suggests that 10–50 MW systems could prove more economically viable in Australia if sited appropriately.

Ms Jay Rutovitz of the University of Technology, Sydney’s Institute of Sustainable Futures says that Australia’s rising electricity costs are mostly driven by the poles and wires needed for transmission rather than on production costs or carbon pricing.

“We looked at case studies in Queensland where if a single element in the system failed there would be loss of supply to a town,” Rutovitz says. The cost of duplicating the transmission lines to avoid such risks would be very high, while transmission lines incapable of handling an increase in electricity demand link the South Australian riverland town of Monash to the grid.

Rutovitz found that CST would be cost-effective for Monash, Charleville, St George and Gunnedah. The systems would not supply the towns with 100% of...

The full text of this article can be purchased from Informit.