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Power stations in solar conversion talks

19th Sep 2011

South Australia's energy minister Michael O'Brien will enter talks with environmental not-for-profit organisation Beyond Zero Emissions (BZE) to investigate a possible solar conversion for two of the state's coal-fired power stations.

The ABC has reported that scientists and engineers have carefully considered the conversion, which would revamp two plants in Port Augusta.

BZE spokesperson Mark Ogges tells the ABC: "In a sense a solar thermal power plant is exactly the same as a thermal coal plant, the only difference is to produce the heat you use mirrors to concentrate the sun's energy rather than burning coal."

Ogges also pointed out that a coal-to-gas conversion would not be economically viable.

"As Australia starts exporting a whole lot of liquefied natural gas, gas prices are going to be linked to global prices so if we link our electricity generation to gas prices then we'll start getting the same volatility and uncertainty at the power switch that we're already getting at the petrol pump," he asserts.

Should the conversion go through, South Australian residents could see their reliance on traditional coal-fired power in decline, overtaken by new, clean energy systems that can deliver a reliable supply to the greater region.

Large scale solar has been identified by BZE as a necessary infrastructure development if Australia is serious about achieving its emissions targets.

The report comes following a study released earlier this month (September 8) that reveals that switching from coal to natural gas will not have the intended effect of reducing the impact on the environment.

The University Corporation for Atmospheric Research (UCAR) argues that the process of relying more on natural gas would fail to avert shifts in climates.

Instead, BZE believes that large-scale renewable energy projects - such as solar panel arrays and wind power farms - have the ability to support the nation's energy needs, without any adverse side effects.

With the delivery of the government's carbon price draft legislation to parliament last week, Australia is set to see an upswing in the number of clean energy systems operating over the next decade.

Solar power systems form a key part of this overall strategy, with individual state governments each addressing the issue of household systems in their own way through selected feed-in tariffs for consumers.

Mike Peacock - Solar Correspondent 

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