Coal vs Solar – Which is more space efficient?

solar and a coal fired power station

This is a guest post by Greg Bell – which was conceived in the comments section of another post on this blog.

Take it away Greg:


Some things we can say we know for sure about photovoltaics – the fuel is free, it’s quiet, and there are no moving parts. But other benefits are more controversial. Recently a claim was made to me that solar PV is actually more area efficient – that is, it generates more energy per hectare – than coal.

Specifically, the claim was

“The 1,600 megawatt brown coal Hazelwood Power Station and associated mine in Victoria covers 3,554 hectares. In a sunny location in Australia 20% efficient solar panels covering that area would produce more kilowatt-hours than Hazelwood’s average output.”

Let’s see if that’s true. [Read more…]

Are millions of solar roofs making solar farms pointless?

solar roofs and a solar field

Are solar roofs making solar power stations uneconomic?

Utility scale solar, or solar farms, are fields of PV panels which generate electricity that is fed directly into the grid.  Currently we don’t have much of this in Australia.  Over 99% of our solar capacity is point of use which is mostly on rooftops and the juice it does produce is first used to power the household or business it is on top of and then after that the excess is generally fed into the grid. [Read more…]

Why Big Utilities Are Scrambling Towards Solar

Now that solar power has become more of a threat, big US utility companies responsible for providing electricity want to buy in. With the cultural push to become more reliant on renewable energy sources and the increase in people wanting to break free from their higher utility bills, many utility companies are opting to become more solar friendly in order to keep their business.

While overall this might be a good thing, the intentions are purely economic. Big utilities in the USA are in the discussions with local governments in order to build or install solar panels into their networks. Some states have been open to this idea but others have resisted since it appears to only kill off the only competition electric companies have.

To learn more about this development, click here.

The Huge Companies That Rely On Commerical Solar

Whilst commercial solar systems in Australia are steadily growing in number despite pushback from many electricity networks, the USA is forging ahead with enormous commercial systems.  America’s biggest companies, like Wal*mart, Costco and Macy’s are relying on solar power to reduce their bills. Here’s a great snapshot from the Sustainable Energy Industry Association which has some seriously impressive numbers on it.

When will Australia’s biggest companies (e.g. the miners) start installing more solar to power their operations?, Perhaps when the government stops subsidising their filthy diesel to the tune of about $8bn per year?

Anyway – all I can say is way to go USA! Here’s those amazing stats:

comercial solar infographic

Source: SEIA

Royalla solar farm shows states, territories need to step up on renewables

solar panel in a field

A field near Canberra, yesterday.

We had a mini solar energy revolution in Australia this week: the opening of Australia’s largest solar farm at Royalla, near Canberra.

Funded by Spanish renewable energy giant Fotowatio Renewable Ventures, the 20 megawatt solar farm is monstrous by Australian standards. Comprised of 83,000 solar panels — which will be enough to power 4,500 homes — the farm is a major step forward in the ACT government’s plan to source 90 percent (yes you read right) of its energy from renewable sources by 2020. [Read more…]

Solar breakthroughs by the dozen but what of the future?

idea rocket

The breakthroughs just keep on comin’

This week two news items have proved that innovation in the solar energy sector is not only alive and humming but well on the way to shaping our energy future. The first is based on nothing new. Indeed it was originally proposed in a 1941 story by science fiction author Isaac Asimov.

With climate change now threatening our very survival as a species — according to the more downbeat of scientific studies — and with a general lack of political will to do anything about it, it may take something completely from left field to save the planet. Enter solar energy and the Asimov proposal.

[Read more…]

A common sense way to combine photovoltaics and biofuel crops

utility scale solar

Why not plant some biofuel crops between those panels?

Every now and then we like to take a look at what’s happening in solar energy research, weigh the pros and cons and see how it will play out in our wide, brown land. This week we’ve got a beauty. We’ll look at a novel way to combine (the word is co-locate) two forms of clean energy: photovoltaics and biofuel crops. [Read more…]

Major CSIRO solar breakthrough underlines ARENA’s worth

CSIRO solar tower with mirror array.

These mirrors at CSIRO in Newcastle can focus the sun to create superheated steam. That is the same pressure and temperature of steam that a coal or nuclear fired power plant creates. Amazing. Picture credit: CSIRO

Further evidence emerged this week from the CSIRO of the value of the embattled Australian Renewable Energy Agency (ARENA) to the nation. ARENA, you may well recall, is at the centre of the current government’s ideological campaign against renewable energy with its very existence now in doubt through savage proposed budget cuts.

The breakthrough was the successful heating of steam to a supercritical temperature using solar energy. Supercritical steam is very high temperature and high pressure steam, that is needed to run electricity generating turbines efficiently. Essentially this means that we can now use the sun to drive conventional electricity turbines, like those found in a coal fired or even nuclear power station. This development has the potential to be a “gamechanger” in the way we generate electricity, according to the CSIRO. [Read more…]

Solar power innovation (part two): solar power satellites

astronaut from the 60s

Image from NASA (click image to see original on

Last week we took the quantum leap into the inestimably small applications of solar power innovation by bringing you up to date on quantum dots and solar windows. The article was a solar squizz at how the latest developments in nano technology have brought the concept of windows as solar panels just that one tantalisingly step closer. [Read more…]

Google’s solar power investment proves world’s best brains back renewables

google search for solarThe search engine giant Google — and more specifically Google solar power — is the subject of this week’s rant folks.

There comes a time when the most radical science drifts into the mainstream and becomes accepted as fact or a viable alternative to the present way of doing things. Sometimes this happens almost unnoticed, at least by the community at large, such as the move in thinking from the “steady state” theory of the existence of the universe (back in the day!) to that of the Big Bang. [Read more…]