Is renewable energy in Australia a train wreck?

solar-train-wreckIts been a grim time for solar fans over the last week or so as the promised cutbacks, slashes and hatchet jobs on all forms of renewable energy Australia unfold before our horrified eyes. It’s been a bit like watching a bad B Grade film; you know the ones that haven’t even got the wit to take the rise out of themselves.

Watching the Godzilla of Abbott government policy smashing its way across our wide brown land can also be described as being akin to watching a slow motion train wreck. (Too much metaphor mixing is barely enough I always say readers!) First it was the promised repeal of the carbon tax with all the accompanying chest thumping and anti-renewable energy grunting and gnashing of teeth from cheer squads in the press and frontbench. Then there was the slashing of funding for the renewable energy agency ARENA in the interest of cost cutting and (dare I say it) promises made to vested interests. At least we can’t say we weren’t warned!

Which is why readers that I have no intention of covering these thoughts in detail in this week’s article. Instead I thought a “good news” solar story would be appropriate. That story is the one this week about Google pumping a cool $US80 million into six massive solar utilities in Arizona and California.

Now we know that Google may have been a little naughty in recent times with uncoverings of alleged wrongdoings in accepting money from certain US government agencies. There’s also the ah … aversion to paying tax in Australia that has raised the ire of its punters. However one thing that Google has never been accused of is not knowing the value of a good investment. The good folks at Google wouldn’t be throwing their hard-earned dosh around on something they didn’t consider worthwhile. Therefore we have to assume that they understand that investment in utility scale solar has a big future.

If only the renewable energy Australia sector had commited investors like the massive Google company. Imagine if these investors had some sway with government solar policy? Perhaps we would be hearing less about massive slashes in funding to agencies which have played their role in attracting investment and more about private/government partnerships for the good of Australia’s clean energy future. Would it then be too much to ask for a coherent government renewable energy policy to provide certainty for our energy future?

Unlimited sun is one of our country’s most tangible and reliable assets. Combine this with breakthroughs in solar energy storage being made on a regular basis and you have the basis of a renewable energy Australia-style industry of a scale to match that of Germany. Maybe.

Your thoughts readers? Has your SQHQ correspondent gone off the deep end (one final mangled metaphor) on this one. Will the current government be made redundant by massive investment in solar utilities from private companies with deep pockets. As always we look forward to your thoughts either here or over at our Facebook Page.

Comments

  1. Should we be surprised that the smart-money billionaires like Page, Brin and Musk, are developing alternative technologies, to meet the demands of a rising world population… and depleted resources? And should we be surprised that the current Australian government, fixated on fossil fuels, short-term gain and the status quo, will protect vested interests in the same? Predictable, wasn’t it?

  2. d'Albert Mtalhoko says

    Take heart Rich, this is to be expected because throughout history it is known that whenever the ‘dye-in-wool’ Ideologues who wrap themselves in the National Flag as being the true custodians of the Country are in the ascendency, they always sweep aside any progressive new initiatives ‘modernizers’ have embraced when they were in Government. Recall what happened to George Stephenson when he first introduced the ‘King Coal’ munching hyper-polluting Steam-Locomotive, obstacles kept coming up to derail his new technological venture, but see what happened in the 200 years that followed. Its success went on to spawn other fossil-fuel munching and guzzling projects that have since taken over the Globe and in a vary pedantic manner, buried his Locomotive expect for an odd puffing-billy here and there in the outbacks.
    The history of the renewable energy sources will suffer many , very serious setbacks but without doubt they will eventually ‘RUN THE WORLD’ because , for the duration of Human life ‘Fossil-fuels are finite and disappearing and NOT for ever. Natural energy sources , Wind, Water and the Solar-fusion conflagration that sustains ALL LIFE on Earth are certainly forever, until our Sun runs out of Hydrogen to burn.By then the last Human survivors will not even know there were ‘killers’ called ‘Fossil-Fuels’ that Humans were totally besorted with at any stage, millions of years back. Take heart, the fight to use the right kind of energy sources is just beginning and will ‘as day-follows-night’ certainly be won !

  3. Colin Spencer says

    Do not despair, Solar Gurus.

    There is a massive market, virtually untapped, which you will find impossible to satisfy.
    Commercial entities with expansive roof space are waiting for you to come to them with a proposition to insulate them from future power increases, and to reduce their monthly revenue loss on ridiculous power bills. When the real businessmen amongst you does a professional survey of a winery or warehousing business, and prepares a cost benefit presentation showing that a five year lease on a large system capable of meeting a high proportion of their daily power usage, you will be surprised at how fast they sign up.

  4. Yes, I agree, Colin, a cost benefit analysis and a Net Present Value calculation for installing such a system versus relying on the grid, should show massive returns. Don’t forget to include the cost of battery systems for when the sun is partially hidden by clouds. ,

  5. Dunno if it’s the solar that needs the work but the battery, the cost we buy vrs the cost we sell is the problem, people instinctively hate a bad deal. I agree it’s a forgone conclusion that Solar will be the dominant energy source of the future but we have to be able to store and harness the energy, not give it away. The game changer will be when they sort out Bio Batteries IMHO.

    • phase.verocity says

      Lithium Polymer will eventually come down in price; light, good storage, safe and 2000 or more cycles. Not like these big heavy lead batteries. A 200 amp/hour weighs 65kg and thats a lot of weight to move. This is a beginning of a new era and solar will eventually take over the market. We just have to wait for the big time oil investors to die out. Sweden’s not going to like it much. lol.

  6. Despite the angst besetting the nuclear solution to producing electricity, it’s the only sensible way forward. Nuclear energy would be quite safe to use if there weren’t so many stupid human beings involved. I.E.Who in their right mind came up with the idea of building a nuclear power station in an extremely earthquake prone country, right next to the ocean?

  7. Solar Power has many attributes but the main reasons that it will not succeed is that storage, after the billions sunk into this technology, is the main problem. Sure we can generate heaps of power during sunlight hours but as soon as the sun sets it blackness unless very expensive and may I say not very earth friendly Lead Acid Batteries are used to store the power. Try running a workshop on Solar and its a joke even on days where the sun is at its best, the batteries a bubbling away happily, have day where it overcast or raining and its a joke even with the batteries. A generator using fossil fuels is still needed to top the batteries up or in reality to run the workshop. Add to that the initial cost of the batteries capable of storing power for a decade and its usually cheaper to go mains power instead.
    Lithium batteries are mooted as the next big step but the cost of those would be prohibitive and with Lithium there is no warning that they are getting low on power they just stop.. Even the authorities realise that Solar is not a real option as one of the requirements of having a 100% Solar System is that you also have a massive Battery Charger and a Fossil fuelled Generator to run it, bit of a joke really isn’t it.
    If as people say Solar is the way to go then when are we going to see some advancement for the billions sunk into this by business and governments. At the moment the failures of various Renewable Power Systems is far outweighing the successes. Renewable is becoming a hole that is devouring money at an alarming rate for very little or no new technology that actually allows it to become the next big thing.

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