Large-Scale vs Domestic: Where Should the Dosh Go?

The federal government has been accused of dragging its feet on solar energy (and renewable energy in general) in comparison to more dynamic regions such as North Asia, Europe and the United States. Innovative and well-targeted government support in these countries has seen the increased takeup of solar power and a boom in their respective solar industries.

However, one feels our overworked and underpaid elected reps (bless ‘em) would be up in arms at the suggestion of neglect of solar initiatives and would point to the key area of the federal Solar Flagships program as proof of this.

And fair enough.

One of the beneficiaries of this Flagships scheme is the recently announced Moree Solar Farm. The project is Australia’s first utility-scale solar PV project and at a projected 150 megawatt capacity is to be considered one of the largest utilities of its kind in the world.

The June 18 media release by the consortium of Fotowatio Renewable Ventures (FRV), BP Solar and Pacific Hydro described the federal government’s selection of the consortium (predictably) as an “exciting day”.

“This is an exciting day for the consortium partners who are looking forward to working closely with the Federal and NSW State Governments to deliver this landmark project,” said Javier Huergo, head of consortium member FRV and a Director of Moree Solar Farm.

But does the same “excitement” apply for the long-suffering taxpayers? Will the farm be the game changer for the Australian solar industry? The consortium does claim Australia-wide benefits by saying the Moree Solar Farm will provide “…a blueprint business model for the roll-out of utility scale solar across Australia”.

Indeed the $1.5 billion Solar Flagships program was itself created by the federal government in 2009 for the purpose of supporting large scale solar projects throughout the country. With the state governments backing away from the domestic solar feed-in tariffs, is this a sign than that encouraging large scale solar utilities, rather than support at household level, is the new direction? And is this the right way to go?

For an interesting perspective, we can go back to the ABC’s Saturday Extra program of May 7, 2011 where presenter Geraldine Doogue asked Climate Spectator’s Giles Parkinson this very question.

Geraldine Doogue: But isn’t there a whole argument — and you’ve certainly been debating it in Climate Spectator — that we’ve got it all wrong, that we went small-scale when we should have gone large-scale, and they are going large-scale overseas, and that changes the whole sort of dynamics of it?

 

 Giles Parkinson: Yes, it’s a question of emphasis. I think small-scale had to roll out first, because large-scale solar is essentially small-scale solar but just with a bigger scale, just getting the modules right and it’s really just an engineering challenge of how to get that sun captured and powering your appliances for the cheapest cost possible, the lowest manufacturing and what-have-you. So that’s been an important roll-out and I think we’ve seen that in all those incentives that happened in Germany, in Europe and elsewhere and then the Chinese coming on board, and they’ve really driven a lot of these costs down, because competition’s the best thing in this business.

 

With limited funding for solar energy available, where should we direct out investments? Should we continue down the path of solar feed-in tariffs? Or should we look to funding large-scale operations like the Moree Solar Farm through the federal Solar Flagships program?

Have your say below or over at our Facebook Page.

 

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