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Australia looks to solar thermal for commercial success

30th Jul 2013

The benefits of installing solar thermal systems are plentiful and obvious. But when it comes down to it, most homeowners who are teetering on the edge of purchasing such a system look to the costs and how quickly they'll see a return on investment.

To help clarify the commercial potential solar thermal systems have, Australian Resources and Energy Minister Gary Gray has created a new set of online programs that are expected to benefit researchers and finance professionals, and help them determine how, exactly, solar thermal can play an important economic role.

The project was performed with the help of the Australian Renewable Energy Agency (ARENA), and focused on the benefits of Concentrating Solar Thermal technology, as opposed to less-efficient solar photovoltaics.

Gray stated that these systems "have the potential to play a significant role in future electricity networks as they can store energy, which means clean energy can be dispatched to homes and businesses at anytime of the day or night."

Cross-country participation

ARENA's participation will ensure that the most up-to-date technology is available, which will be used to kickstart new renewable energy programs throughout the country.

"These new tools – which will optimise an industry-leading United States model for Australian conditions – will make it easier for developers and financiers to assess the commercial viability of concentrating solar thermal projects," Gray added.

Australia is putting a greater emphasis on solar thermal technology mostly because of its simplicity. Systems designed to produce electricity typically involve mirrors that focus the sun's energy to one point, but there are smaller programmes that have been developed that can heat homes and water tanks, as well.

Currently, there are hundreds of megawatts' worth of solar thermal plants in the development phase, making it top priority for many businesses to learn how these systems are commercially viable.

The tools being used in Australia are a part of the System Advisor Model (SAM), which the US Department of Energy developed, but has since been tailored to the Australian Solar Thermal Energy Association's (ASUTELA's) liking.

Developers will be able to use the new tools to conduct feasibility studies of a particular area to determine how lucrative a solar thermal system would be.

"This type of analysis is critical to attracting investors and will help pave the way for the energy industry and the finance sector to deploy concentrating solar thermal technologies in Australia," Mr Gray asserted.

Posted by Mike Peacock

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