Construction on Mildura solar system begins but what can taxpayers expect?

Solar Farm
 photo credit: mcmees24

The announcement last month from R&D company Silex Systems that construction on Australia’s largest solar power station at Mildura, VIC, has begun gladdens the heart. And the hip pocket nerve. After all Victorian and federal taxpayers are helping to fund this venture to the tune of around $120 million.

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Solar Power Forecast for 2012: More stability, better forecasts, fewer conspiracies?

solar to grow in 2012?

This year should be the year that renewables start to take off in Australia:

  • We will have a carbon tax in place that will support renewable energy and overseas money is starting to flow in.
  • Large scale solar is finding funding, following the trend from overseas.
  • Chinese production of solar panels is bringing the cost of solar energy rapidly down towards that of fossil fuels.

But there is one factor that governments, both federal and state, need to provide: stability.

The solar industry needs to sense that financial support given in one year won’t be withdrawn the next when the going gets tough or when a newly-elected government reverses the previous government’s solar policy just because they can.

Certainly in the case of solar energy the governments’ efforts to forecast costs got an “F” grade this year. In a New Year’s resolution that we think makes complete sense, the Australian Solar Energy Society (AuSES) has promised to carefully watch over the government’s solar forecasting in 2012 on behalf of the nation’s solar industry. Reading between the lines it seems AuSES is none too pleased with the end-of-year report card for government forecasting agencies.

“As a national voice for Australia’s solar industry, the Australian Solar Energy Society has made a New Year’s resolution: to work more closely with Government agencies to ensure there’s no repeat of the 2011 solar forecast mistakes,” the society said in a recent release.

This brings an image of government forecasters sitting in class rooms watched over by AuSES teachers. The solar forecasters, gazing out into the playground where their fellow  number crunchers are all playing, before looking down and writing: “I must not bugger up the solar forecasts again” 100 times.

Am I being too harsh here? After all a forecast is just as it states: a forecast. But surely it should have some relation to the outcomes?

The AuSES release points to four key areas where forecasts had to be speedily revised to bring them to within a bull’s roar of real outcomes.

1. The Productivity Commission’s overstating of the cost of solar subsidies per tonne of CO2, forcing it to revise down the cost of solar subsidies from $431-$1041 to $177-$497.

2. The Energy White Paper, released by the federal government, which overstated solar’s cost by a factor of three.

3. The Treasury Department’s estimate that the country would have around 9 gigawatts of solar by 2050. However 1.2 gigawatts has already been installed, with yearly installations increasing ten fold since 2009.

4. The NSW Government, led by Barry “The Terminator” O’Farrell, forced to revise the cost of the state’s solar bonus scheme down by nearly a quarter.

Hardly inspiring is it? No wonder AuSES chief executive John Grimes described 2011 as “a horrible year for government solar forecasting”. And why are the forecasts always so against the interests of the solar industry? Is the reason for the solar forecasting simply the innocent result of a culture of excessive drinking and partying in our state and federal capitals? Or are there other motives at work?

There you go folks, a nice little conspiracy theory to kick off the year. Wishing you all a safe, happy and productive New Year.

AuSES-sponsored Conference Spins the Big Solar Wheel

Two of the key issues covered this week at the Solar 2011 conference have been (1) the growing affordability of solar systems for both domestic and commercial outlooks as prices plummet, and (2) the growth of international large-scale solar projects. The first has been made possible by the growth of the Chinese solar energy sector and has made cheap solar panels available to Australian households and businesses.

However are we likely to see massive scale projects backed by the federal government in this country? Well yes if the event organisers have their way. [Read more…]

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. [Read more…]

Carbon Tax and Government Support – the Other Side of the Coin

Last week we examined the point of view of academic Mark Diesendorf who stated that the much villified carbon tax will probably be insufficient to encourage renewable energy investment in Australia. This week we look at the opposing view and find that overseas renewable energy companies are indeed putting their hands in their pockets to fund renewable energy schemes in Australia, particularly those looking at exploiting our abundant sun.

These companies are looking at taking advantage of the positive renewable funding climate in our country, support which is expected to be funded through revenue supplied by the contentious carbon tax. [Read more…]

Liberal Hammers NSW Govt Over Solar Rebate Backflip

By Rich Bowden

The newly-installed NSW Liberal Government has received widespread criticism for its recent decision to retrospectively reduce the tariff paid to households under the solar bonus agreement.

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How to build a giant Solar Powered Oven

Does your house feell like a forced fan convection oven in summer?

Here’s how to build a highly efficient, giant solar powered oven.

Eight steps to making sure your oven gets as hot as possible in summer: powered by nothing other than the sun!

1. Erect a wooden frame about the size of an average house.

2. Build bricks around the outside of the frame. Bricks have a good thermal mass, which means that as the sun shines on them in the day, the bricks will store the heat and radiate it back into the oven long after the sun has gone down.

3. Fix a very low thermal mass material (like plasterboard) to the inside of the timber frame so that if any cool air gets in the oven (heaven forbid), the coolness won’t be stored in the inner walls.

4. Put lots of glass in the walls (avoid double glazing at all costs), especially the north facing one. Make sure these windows have minimal awnings.

5. Put black colorbond (ideally) or dark tiles on the top of the timber frame to maximize the heat absorbed by the ‘roof’ of the oven.

6. Add a fan that blows air down from the top of the oven. This way, as the hot air inside the oven rises, you can blow it back down to floor level to makes sure that anything on ground level gets suitably cooked through. To keep things simple, we’ll refer to this ventilation system as the ‘Ducted Air System’

7. If you are worried about cool air getting into the Ducted Air System, then simply add an insulated ceiling to create a roof space.  Ensure all the ducted air system’s pipes are kept inside this ferociously hot roofspace.  This will  minimize the chance of any air in the pipes actually getting cold.

8. If the meat in the oven needs a little more grilling, then add dozens of high powered halogen heaters liberally recessed into the ceiling. As well as producing enormous amounts of heat these little halogen bulbs will produce a small amount of light as an added bonus.

If your house was built like this and resembles an oven in summer,  the two most cost effective things you can probably do are:

a)   Fit mains or solar powered fans into the roof to remove the hot air from the roofspace. These will remove 7-10 times as much air as a passive ‘whirlybird’.

b)   Fit external awnings on all N, E and W facing windows.

If you do those and your cooling bills don’t halve, I’ll eat my cancer-council approved wide brimmed hat.

Solar Panel Scheme : terminated and to cost taxpayers $440 million

Since 2000, the the Solar Homes and Communities Plan started out as the Photovoltaic Rebate Program offering $4,000. The program was changed in 2007 and was receiving by then an average 153 applications per week.

As part of the Rudd Government’s election commitments, the program was allocated $150 million to provide increased rebates of up to $8,000 to 15,000 homes over five years.

The number of applications for the rebate grew from 420 per week in May 2008 to approximately 6,043 per week in May 2009. [Read more…]

Massive Solar Power Plant For Australia

According to the Reuters News Service, “Australia is going to build the world’s largest solar energy plant.”The solar energy plant will cost about 1.4 billion dollars to complete and the project should be in its earliest stages by 2010.

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