Solar features prominently in ARENA funding plans

11th Jul 2013

After weeks of rumours and scraps of leaked information, the Australian Renewable Energy Agency has published its funding plans for the next three years.

The organisation, more commonly referred to as ARENA, has put solar power front and centre of many of its financing proposals – although industry experts are likely to be hopeful and disappointed in equal measure.

Where exactly is the agency's money being spent? One of the flagship initiatives outlined in its new investment plan is the development of 'hybrid' power plants.

Put simply, these facilities will combine a renewable energy source (solar thermal is the one used in the proposal) with a traditional fossil fuel production method.

The aim is to facilitate the shift towards clean energy technology, while providing a boost in generation capacity during peak periods.

Political backing

Federal resources and energy minister Gary Gray was quick to support the benefits of such schemes, claiming they provide an excellent way of facilitating evolution in the country's power markets.

"This approach recognises that changing the energy landscape is a process of transition and aims to pave the way for stand alone renewable energy plants by first building confidence, knowledge and expertise around new technologies in a hybrid setting," he explained.

Other solar power aims offered in the investment framework included in-depth funding to fully explore the barriers and lessons to be learned from trying to mix sustainable energy schemes with network grid connection.

Solar irradiation data will also be collected and published in an effort to make financing of new initiatives more enticing.

Furthermore, ARENA said it would be concentrating on developing next-generation solar capabilities across a variety of sectors during 2013-14.

The downsides

While the investment plan had a few reasons to be hopeful for the solar industry, there were a couple of footnotes that may not be as welcome.

Noticeably, ARENA said it would not be accepting new applications for large-scale solar projects – instead confirming it would give cash only to those already given approval.

Not only this, while the report praised the quality of solar scientists in the country, it appears the organisation will be focusing more on other technologies in the future.

"ARENA believes that Australia has other significant world leading areas of research and development in the renewable energy field."

All in all, it appears to be a mixed bag for the solar sector, and only time will tell how this funding framework will affect the industry as a whole.

Posted by Bob Dawson

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