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Report suggests smaller is better for Australian energy needs

16th Dec 2011

While the solar debate in Australia continues, a new report has found that introducing generating plants of 30 megawatts or below - solar farms and rooftop panel systems - could be one of the quickest and cheapest ways to reduce emissions and meet peak demand.

Entitled Think Small: The Australian Decentralised Energy Roadmap, the report suggests that the energy sector's expenditure could be reduced by one-third if Australia adopted decentralised energy technologies that focused on energy efficiency, peak load management and distributed generation.

Released by the University of Technology’s Institute of Sustainable Futures (ISF) and completed as part of a three-year collaboration with the CSIRO and four other universities, the research suggests that a saving of $2.8 billion could be made if changes were made to the energy industry.

Noted challenges currently being faced in the way of distributed energy include split incentives, lack of information, regulatory barriers, price structures and a "payback gap", according to the report.

The publication recommends regulatory reform, the creation of a distribution fund, tariffs to support distributed generation and a 3,000 megawatt peak demand reduction target below by 2017.

According to ISF Director Professor Stuart White, decentralised energy should play the leading role both in creating a clean energy future and in ensuring that energy bills remain affordable for all Australians.

"Australia is going to face difficult energy choices in the future, so it is vital that we make the easier and smarter choices now. This means making the most of decentralised energy that cuts carbon energy options and cuts bills at the same time," Professor White said.

Speaking to independent website Climate Spectator, report co-author Chris Dunstan said that while solar may appear to be costly, the price continues to fall rapidly and the technology will play a vital role in the coming years.

"Solar PV is expensive now, but it is extremely important. If we ignore what is going on with PV prices, and we invest in centralised infrastructure, by the time we get to grid parity with PV, installing PV in the grid will just save us the cost of coal, not the network infrastructure," he said.

Climate Spectator commentator Giles Parkinson agrees that the focus of renewable energy must turn to smaller projects, calling on government policy makers to change their way of thinking.

"The draft energy white paper released this week draws attention to those issues, but it is still a document that is centred around the build out of large, centralised power stations as the cornerstone of the energy grid."

Posted by Mike Peacock - Solar correspondent

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