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Solar for cooler climates

26th Oct 2011

Colder climates like Tasmania have emerged as an unusual place to establish solar farms, according to a new study.

Research appearing in the American Chemical Society journal Environmental Science & Technology has found some of the world's coldest places, including Antarctica, have the potential for generating substantial amounts of solar electricity.

The study, conducted by Japan’s National Institute of Advanced Industrial Science and Technology, looked to shift the public's perception of where solar electricity generation facilities can occur.

The researchers found that many cold regions at high elevations receive a substantial amount of sunlight - and in some cases even higher than that in desert areas. The primary example used in the study was the potential for the Himalayas to generate electricity for the increasing population in China.

Tasmania is proving to be a steady adopter of solar power technology. Almost three per cent of households in Tasmania currently access solar electricity, according to new figures from the Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS).

The latest Environmental Issues: Energy Use and Conservation report by the ABS shows that over 2,000 Tasmanian homes are embracing solar energy, counteracting the common misconception that solar panels work best in warmer climates.

The common belief that hotter temperatures positively impact on the amount of energy generated is untrue - the hotter a day is, the less efficient a solar panel becomes in converting sunlight to electricity. The success of solar is instead based on the number of hours of sunlight there is in a day.

So households installing rooftop solar panels have the potential to generate just as much power as anywhere else in Australia.

The feed-in tariff rate for Tasmania is currently $0.20 per kilowatt-hour - however there have been moves to introduce a gross feed in tariff in the state soon. The tariff acts as an incentive for households to take the excess energy generated and feed it back into the local electricity grid.

Recent US research has found that the return on investment from solar power is higher than any other renewable energy source. This is also backed by the price of solar power in Australia dropping - Energy Matters reports that payback for rooftop solar panels in some Australian states can be under four years.

Electricity prices in Tasmania are predicted to increase by 23 per cent over the next three years.

Posted by Mike Peacock - Solar Correspondent  

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