Australian news, and some related international items

South Australia’s Sundrop Farms – desert solar powered agriculture

Desert farm grows 180,000 tomato plants using only sun and seawater

Farms that grow food in arid deserts, without groundwater or fossil fuels, could be the future of agriculture. BRYAN NELSON October 10, 2016, No soil, no pesticides, no fossil fuels, and no groundwater. And yet, a thriving farm in the heart of the arid Australian desert. How is this possible?

An international team of scientists has spent the last six years fine-tuning a system that pipes seawater in from the ocean and desalinates it using a state-of-the-art concentrated solar energy plant. The water is then used to irrigate 180,000 tomato plants grown in coconut husks instead of soil, kept in a network of greenhouses.

sundrop-farms-David-PrattThe result is Sundrop Farms, a commercial-scale facility located just off the Spencer Gulf in South Australia that began construction in 2014. Today it’s producing an estimated 17,000 tons of tomatoes per year to be sold in Australian supermarkets.

Given the increasing demand for fresh water around the world — a problem that’s particularly apparent in the sunburned landscape of South Australia — this might just represent future of large-scale farming, especially in coastal desert regions that have previously been non-arable.

The heart of the farm is the 23,000 mirrors that reflect sunlight towards a 115-meter high receiver tower. All of that concentrated sunlight produces an immense amount of power, up to 39 megawatts. That’s more than enough to cover the desalination needs of the farm and supply all the electricity needs of the greenhouses.

The seawater, too, has other purposes besides just irrigation. During scorching hot summers, seawater-soaked cardboard lines the greenhouses to help keep the plants at optimal temperature. Seawater also has the remarkable effect of sterilizing the air, meaning that chemical pesticides are unnecessary.

All in all, the facility cost around 200 million dollars to get up and running. That might sound excessive, but in the long run the facility should save money compared to the costs of conventional greenhouses that require fossil fuels for power. It’s a self-sustaining, cost-efficient design so long as the initial investment can be provided. Facilities similar to the Australian one are already being planned for Portugal and the U.S., as well as another in Australia. Desert areas like those seen in Oman, Qatar and the United Arab Emirates could be next in line.

“These closed production systems are very clever,” said Robert Park of the University of Sydney, Australia, to New Scientist. “I believe that systems using renewable energy sources will become better and better and increase in the future, contributing even more of some of our foods.”

October 16, 2016 Posted by | reference, solar, South Australia | Leave a comment

Queensland govt’s push for solar power on all government buildings

map-solar-QueenslandSolar should power government schools, TAFE, hospitals: report, Brisbane Times, 13 Oct 16 Tony Moore  Solar panels will be installed in Queensland Government buildings including TAFE colleges, schools, hospitals and public houses, to help drive Queensland’s renewable energy from seven per cent today to 50 per cent by 2030, a far-reaching strategic report into Queensland’s renewable energy says……..
Energy Minister Mark Bailey on Wednesday night said the push to put solar on government buildings was now being explored.

“The Palaszczuk Government is currently investigating the use of solar PV on state-owned buildings,” Mr Bailey said.  Report author and investment banker Colin Mugglestone led a team of researchers who spent seven months analysing how Queensland should reach a position where 50 per cent of its energy is provided by renewable energy by 2030.

The state government now has 9 megawatts of solar panels on government buildings and hopes to generate 2000 megawatts of solar energy from government property by 2030, the report says…….

What could a renewable energy push to 50 per cent by 2030 provide? “It is projected that Queensland could reach 2200 MW of wind, 5200 MW of large-scale solar PV, and 4900 MW rooftop PV by 2030, including 5500 MW of new large scale capacity built after 2020.”

It could provide between around 6400-6700 extra full-time jobs, mainly in the construction of large scale renewable energy plants.

Last month the federal government’s renewable energy body ARENA agreed to fund $51.4 million to seed six new large-scale solar plants in Queensland. That will help potential big solar plants in Dalby, Oakey, Longreach and Kidston west of Townsville and two in Collinsville……..

What do The Greens say?“The Greens welcome this draft report, which confirms that clean energy is good for jobs,” Mr Bartlett said.”But we are dismayed at the years of delay, lack of ambition, and no transition plan for coal power workers.”

October 13, 2016 Posted by | Queensland, solar | Leave a comment

Solar power needed, to bring energy security and jobs to Port Augusta, South Australia

map solar south-australiaSam Johnson: Solar power must be provided to regional centres such as Port Augusta to provide electricity security – and jobs  October 10, 2016 THE political hoo-ha over renewable energy in South Australia over recent weeks has revealed a serious lack of leadership when South Australian towns like Port Augusta need it most.

October 11, 2016 Posted by | solar, South Australia | 3 Comments

Canberra’s renewable energy leadership at risk, as Federal govt demonises renewables.

The solar industry already employs more people than coal-fired generation across the country. In 2014 the solar industry employed more than 13,000 people and even with the uncertainty and watering down of the renewable energy target this is likely to have grown. By comparison, according to the 2011 census 8,000 people worked in fossil fuel electricity generation.

A clean energy transition is already happening, but it is at risk, Guardian, Alexander White, 11 Oct 16  The transition to a low carbon economy is already happening, but is at risk when residents of Australia’s capital go to the polls in local elections.

The transition to a low carbon economy is already happening … in theAustralian Capital Territory, where the local Labor government has legislated for a 100% renewable energy target by the year 2020.

But this major achievement is at risk on Saturday when residents of Canberra go to the polls for territory elections. Continue reading

October 11, 2016 Posted by | ACT, politics, solar | Leave a comment

In Western Australia, retirees trading solar power

solar-panels-on-roofTrading solar power: Retirees test way to beat shrinking feed-in tariffs‘plan-for-the-future’/7914736?section=environment By Kathryn Diss  Retirees in the West Australian town of Busselton are trialling a new system which allows them to sell excess energy they have generated from their solar panels direct to their neighbours.

The system bypasses the state’s energy utility Synergy, saving consumers money and increasing returns for solar adopters. Continue reading

October 10, 2016 Posted by | solar, Western Australia | Leave a comment

Australia’s first sun-tracking solar farm opens at Majura, Canberra

Majura solar farm set to power more than 600 homes after four years of planning, The Age, Clare Sibthorpe, 6 Oct 16, Hundreds of Canberra homes are set to be powered by one of Australia’s first sun-tracking solar farms which opened in Majura on Thursday.The 2.3MW solar farm adjacent to the Mount Majura winery will generate 4,300 MW per hour within a year, which equals about 600 houses.

 Four years since planning began, the 5000 panels at the $6.5 million farm are finally helping the ACT reach its 100 per cent renewable energy target.

The farm has one of the first self-powered and single axis tracking technology to be used in Australia, which increases output by up to 40 per cent…..

ACT Chief Minister Andrew Barr said the completion of Canberra’s fourth solar farm – with the others in Mugga Lane, Williamsdale and Royalla – helped ensure Canberra’s future renewable power supply was guaranteed…….

He said the ACT government had contracted 640 megawatts of power which exceeded the amount needed to make the territory entirely renewable by 2020.

October 7, 2016 Posted by | ACT, solar | 1 Comment

Look to our sun, urges Hewson

Australia-solar-plugDR John Hewson is leading the charge for more renewable energy – and wants a system redesign. 

Dr Hewson backs battery storage in calls to redesign state’s electricity system after blackout storms Tory Shepherd, Political Editor, The Advertiser, October 6, 2016  AUSTRALIA needs more renewables, not less, former Liberal leader John Hewson says.

October 7, 2016 Posted by | AUSTRALIA - NATIONAL, solar, South Australia | Leave a comment

Banks ready to back big solar projects: renewable energy jobs on the rise

piggy-ban-renewablesgreen-collarBanks looking even closer at backing big solar projects: Clean Energy Council, Brisbane Times, Tony Moore , 8 Sept 16,  Australian banks will invest more heavily in solar energy projects within the next 12 months, Clean Energy Council chief executive Kane Thornton said after Thursday’s announcement that 12 new solar farms Australia-wide had been backed by $100 million from the federal government.

The federal government’s Australian Renewable Energy Agency on Thursday announced 12 large-scale solar projects – six in Queensland – had received federal support.

ARENA chief executive Ivor Frischknecht said improved efficiencies had meant solar energy producers were getting much more bang for their funding buck than they were even two years ago. “In 2014, the grant funding needed for large-scale solar projects was $1.60 a watt,” Mr Frischknecht said.”In 2015, this dropped to 43 cents at the EOI stage of ARENA’s $100 million large-scale solar funding round; and to an average of 28 cents in June 2016 when full applications were submitted,” he said.

“The average requirement of the projects we are taking forward today is an incredible 19 cents a watt.”

Mr Thornton said solar projects would soon begin to rely less on federal government for funding to begin operations. “We really at the threshold of saying that once we see another round of these of these projects  we are going to see the costs decline to the point when they are built on their own, without the government support,” he said. “I think it is months, if not maybe a year or so, before we can expect them to go ahead without further funding.”

Mr Thornton said banks were now closely examining the viability of investing more heavily in solar and renewable energy projects in Australia.

The first major investment in solar energy by Australian banks came in 2013 when NAB and ANZ invested in a 20 megawatt solar plant in Canberra. More investment in solar plants followed, while banks have questioned some large new coal projects……….

Mr Thornton said scale of new solar farm plants was lowering production costs to the point where it was “cost comparative’ with coal and gas.

Mr Thornton said it was now time to begin training workforces that worked in traditional energy supply companies to work in renewable energy.

September 10, 2016 Posted by | AUSTRALIA - NATIONAL, business, employment, solar | Leave a comment

Australian Renewable Energy Agency (ARENA) funding 12 large scale solar projects

Parkinson-Report-12 large scale solar projects to get ARENA funding. And the winners logo-ARENAare … REneweconomy, By  on 7 September 2016  All eyes are on the Pullman Hotel in Sydney, where on Thursday, 12 out of the 20 large-scale solar projects shortlisted for the Australian Renewable Energy Agency’s $100 million funding round are expected to be announced as winners of federal government grants.

The announcements are expected to trigger the biggest single investment surge in any renewable energy technology in Australia to date, even outpacing investment in rooftop solar at the height of the premium feed-in tariffs.

Apart from the projects set to go ahead directly from the ARENA tender, the results are also expected to trigger financing commitments for other large-scale solar projects, many of which are keen to cash in on high prices for renewable energy certificates, surging interest in financing from local and international funders, as well as another big slump in the cost of solar modules on international markets.

RenewEconomy understands that 12 of the 20 projects that made the final short list (out of 77 initial inquiries) will get some sort of funding.

The fact that more than half the projects will be helped by ARENA is not unexpected, given the huge reduction in the project costs elicited during the tendering process. It will mean that the ARENA funding round will produce around double the 200MW of large-scale solar capacity that it originally targeted.

It is thought that nine of these 12 projects will be using single axis tracking technology, which a recent study suggests – see our article Solar does work, and a lot better than we thought – provides the best outcome in terms of output and returns on investment.

The tender result is also expected to show that the levellised cost of energy for large-scale solar has fallen to around $100/MWh for the best projects, well below the $135/MWh targeted by ARENA when it started the process.

A lot of this cost reduction is credited to the competitive nature of the bidding process. Last week ARENA chairman Martijn Wilder told ABC Radio the process had knocked down the amount of assistance needed to 10 per cent of project costs from the near 50 per cent needed to get the Nyngan and Broken Hill solar farms built.

It also appears that large energy retailers – under pressure to meet their renewable energy targets,but lately on a capital strike – are prepared to offer around $80-$85/MWh for long-term contracts………..

September 7, 2016 Posted by | AUSTRALIA - NATIONAL, solar | Leave a comment

Solar power in Australia working better than expected

Parkinson-Report-Solar Power Does Work, Even Better Than Expected, Clean Technica, September 2nd, 2016 by  Originally published on RenewEconomy. [excellent graphs]

One of the prices we have to pay for our ideological divide on renewable energy is that we have to read headlines like this, particularly in the Murdoch media: “Solar and wind power simply don’t work, not here, not anywhere”. It was written by the former chairman of a coal mining company, in case you were wondering.

Solar doesn’t work? New analysis of Australia’s first large-scale solar farms shows that solar actually does work, and rather better than expected. And the findings should make it a lot easier for future projects to get the backing of equity investors and bankers, if not the owners of coal fired generators desperately protecting their turf.

The research has been produced by US-based solar module manufacturer First Solar, whose panels have been used for around three quarters of the large-scale solar projects built in Australia to date, by capacity.

Its study shows that at all the solar farms built by First Solar – in western NSW, north Queensland and Western Australia – the output has been higher than forecast. Collectively, the Australian solar plants using First Solar thin-film PV modules are performing above expectations by an average of 3.2 per cent.

The best result has been produced by Broken Hill, the 53MW plant built near the iconic mining town in western NSW, which is so far delivering 4.2 per cent above expectations.

(Spectral advantage, btw, is a measure that First Solar uses to show how much better their panels work in humid conditions than silicon-based rivals).

Now, this might not sound like ground-breaking news – forecast production broken by a few percentage points.

But people in suits are very conservative types, and investment in renewable energy in Australia, both in wind and solar, has been hampered by the fact that bankers won’t finance investments unless they can actually touch, feel and watch the technology, and have proof that it actually works.

This data, Curtis says, is proof that the projects are, indeed, bankable. And that’s more important than it might sound.

Curtis says that even though large-scale solar has been proved in many international locations, local investors still wanted proof that it would work in Australia, even though it does have some of the best solar conditions in the world. Such, perhaps, is the insular nature and/or inherent conservatism of Australia’s banking system.

But Curtis is reassured, not just by the release of the production statistics, but also by the attitude of equity investors and financiers in the local market………

……Dylan McConnell, from the Melbourne Energy Institute, emailed through a production chart from the 102MW Nyngan solar farm, which also used First Solar technology.

McConnell pointed out that, indeed, Nyngan was producing at a capacity factor of 25 to 26 per cent. This, he said, was far higher than official forecasts relied upon for the Australian Power generation Technologies Report, which estimated the average capacity factor of large-scale solar PV at 19-22 per cent.

That, says McConnell, suggests that the forecasts relied upon by the federal government underestimate the output of solar farms by between 15 and 35 per cent.

Little wonder that the government can’t make any sensible decisions about large-scale solar, and why it insists on defunding the agency that has brought about most of the cost reductions in the past year, ARENA.

September 5, 2016 Posted by | AUSTRALIA - NATIONAL, solar | Leave a comment

Liberal Chairman of Coalition’s environment policy committee a proud climate sceptic, suggests nuclear power

Coalition environment committee chairman takes aim at solar subsidies Craig Kelly says he wants wind and solar funding to be redirected to research into ‘technological breakthroughs’ because existing renewables had ‘little effect’, Guardian, , 31 Aug 16, The Liberal chairman of the Coalition’s environment policy committee, Craig Kelly, has questioned solar and wind power subsidies and would like a cost-benefit analysis of future emission reductions policy, due to be reviewed next year.

Kelly was named chairman of the environment and energy committee at the party room meeting on Monday, making him responsible for coordinating backbench feedback to the government on climate and energy policy.

Lomborg, BjornHe said he was proud to be a climate sceptic rather than “wallow in groupthink, to be a sheep, or a lemming”. Kelly described himself as in the “Bjorn Lomborg” camp, suggesting wind and solar funding should be channelled into “further research” because those current renewables like wind and solar power had “diminishing returns”………

Kelly said in considering the price of power, the option of nuclear power should be considered……..

August 31, 2016 Posted by | AUSTRALIA - NATIONAL, climate change - global warming, politics, solar | Leave a comment

Turnbull’s plan to defund Australian Renewable Energy Agency will cause loss of 100s of solar energy jobs in Queensland

Turnbull destroys renewablesQueensland solar projects that could create 2,600 jobs at risk in federal cuts
Many schemes may not go ahead if the Australian Renewable Energy Agency is defunded in the government’s omnibus bill, ACF warns,
Guardian, , 25 Aug 16, Thousands of jobs could be created in Queensland if 10 large-scale solar projects were to receive funding, according to analysis by the Australian Conservation Foundation.

The projects, earmarked for funding by the Australian Renewable Energy Agency (Arena), would create around 2,695 jobs according to the study.


The figure compared favourably with the 1,400 jobs which the Indian conglomerate Adani estimates its $16bn Carmichael coalmine would bring to the state if it obtains approval for the controversial project, the study claimed.

However, the findings comes as Arena faces defunding by the federal government, placing the projects in jeopardy. Continue reading

August 26, 2016 Posted by | AUSTRALIA - NATIONAL, politics, Queensland, solar | Leave a comment

Community solar fund shares sold out in nine minutes!

solar-panels-and-money“Although this is only a particularly small project, what it is is it represents the first community solar lease product in Australia, it represents the first community solar cooperative fund and it represents the first crowdfunded equity community solar project,”

Community Solar Co-Op Shares Sells Out in Minutes Renewable energy organisation Pingala sold out of shares in nine minutes for its first community solar fund. Pingala partnered with the environmentally-conscious Young Henrys brewery in Newtown, Sydney to build a solar farm on its roof, which will save an estimated 127 tonnes of greenhouse gas emissions a year.

The newly launched Pingala Cooperative, which sits alongside the Pingala Not for Profit, allows the organisation to raise funds from member investors to install solar panels on its partner businesses.

“We then lease the solar to the business, so they pay us a fee to be able to use the equipment as though it were their own, and through that we get a revenue stream that allows us to pay our costs and generate a small profit,” Pingala secretary Tom Nockolds told Pro Bono Australia News.

“So we’re offering our investors between 5 and 8 per cent… return on investment. But they’re investing in Pingala on an ongoing basis, so there’s no predetermined timeline for when investors get their money back, it’s totally up to the investors themselves to decide when they want to sell their shares, it’s much like buying shares in a company. Continue reading

August 24, 2016 Posted by | business, New South Wales, solar | 1 Comment

Landmark solar powered apartment tower for Melbourne

sunFirst solar-powered apartment skyscraper to rise in Melbourne, The Age, Simon Johanson and Marc Pallisco , 24 Aug 16 

A landmark high-rise apartment tower in Southbank whose glass exterior is wrapped in solar cells will provide its residents with “off-the-grid” power stored in Tesla-like batteries, its designers say.

The 60-level building will be the first skyscraper in Australia environmentally engineered to include solar cells in the facade, creating a far greater surface area for catching the sun’s rays.

“We get an enormous area of solar panels by comparison to running them across the roof,” said Peter Brook from Peddle Thorp, the architects behind the design.

The curved exterior of the building has been orientated to deliberately capture the sun’s movement from east to west throughout the day, a feature that had created an “elegant tower”……..

August 24, 2016 Posted by | solar, Victoria | Leave a comment

Clean Energy Finance Corporation helps North Melbourne Football Club go solar

logo CEFCJoin in the solar chorus, says council, as North Melbourne gets on the ball,  Clay Lucas
  Councillor Arron Wood can understand why more businesses don’t put solar panels on their roof.
It’s not because they don’t want to save money. And it’s not because they don’t want to do the right thing. “The biggest barrier to wider uptake [of solar power] is the complexity of going through the process,” says Cr Wood, the chairman of Melbourne City Council’s environment committee.

Which is why, he says, opening North Melbourne Football Club’s new solar panel bank – 800 panels set across the club’s roof and that of the neighbouring council-run recreation centre – is a major breakthrough.

“There’s this sense that footy speaks to all parts of life in Melbourne, so partnering with … North Melbourne footy club might drive others to think ‘Maybe this is something we can do’,” he says.

The panels on the club’s roof will produce enough electricity per year to run 70 average Melbourne homes. North Melbourne’s chief executive Carl Dilena said the club expected to cut its energy use by almost a quarter as a result of installing the solar panels.

But as many Melbourne home owners know, solar does not always come cheap, at least initially. The system cost almost half a million dollars to install, and was partly financed by the council, via the Clean Energy Finance Corporation. The club contributed about $67,000 of the funding, with the rest coming from the city council.

It is the first partnership the council has undertaken with an outside party – all other installations it has done have been on council-owned building rooftops.

The council is working with Sustainability Victoria to find businesses interested in reducing either emissions or energy bills that have previously considered going solar.

“The driver for a lot of businesses isn’t saving the environment, it’s to save dollars and that’s completely fine,” says Cr Wood.

August 8, 2016 Posted by | AUSTRALIA - NATIONAL, solar, Victoria | Leave a comment