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Australia's got sunshine - even on cloudy days

18th Jun 2012

If you've ever wondered how solar panels continue to provide electricity even on cloudy days, the boffins at the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation (CSIRO) might have just the answer you are looking for.

In new research published last week (June 13), CSIRO scientists released the findings of a year-long study investigating solar intermittency - which is just a fancy word for the factors we can't control about solar energy, such as cloudy weather or how brightly the sun shines on any given day.

Combatting solar intermittency and ensuring services are stable are essential for the long-term management of the electricity grid - and luckily, the latest report suggests that clouds shouldn't be a barrier to large-scale solar projects in Australia.

We're known around the world as a sun-drenched country, and with the carbon tax looming on the not-so-distant horizon, it's now time to come up with a concrete plan to better manage solar power right across the nation.

The study - which is thought to be the first of its kind in the world - was carried out by CSIRO, the Energy Networks Association and the Australian Energy Market Operator and funded by the Australian Solar Institute.

Titled Solar intermittency: Australia's clean energy challenge, the report reveals that solar intermittency can be managed with a bit of simple forward planning.

Known as solar forecasting, this approach should be customised according to region- after all, the sun doesn't shine equally on all parts of Australia at all times! And the CSIRO scientists suggest that changes also need to be made to the Aussie electricity grid to account for greater flexibility in the system.

The good news to take away from the in-depth study is that electricity firms shouldn't worry that cloudy days represent a major hurdle for the industry.

While the study found that some local utilities currently limit their solar generation capacity because they worry this will make their electricity program much harder to manage, CSIRO scientists have found that this is simply not the case.

"There are no insurmountable barriers to increasing the use of large-scale solar energy in the national report," CSIRO asserted in a media release published last week.

The bottom line? Cloudy days don't mean solar panels need to be any less effective - and this is certainly a position we are pleased to support!

Posted by Mike Peacock

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