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Solar key to Australia's non-fossil fuel future, report says

2nd Dec 2011

Australia needs to embrace the potential of solar power as it moves towards a non-fossil fuel future, a key think tank has warned.

In a report released yesterday (December 1), the Australian Strategic Policy Institute (ASPI) examined the nation's vulnerability to interruptions in the oil supply over the next few years and what role renewable energy - including solar power - will play in the future.

The report - entitled Keeping the home fires burning: Australia's energy security - found that this country has one of the world's highest levels of average power consumption per person.

According to report co-author Dr Andrew Davies, approximately 25 per cent of energy consumption in Australia is attributed to transport.

Local consumers use nearly as much energy as our counterparts in the US - and more electricity than people in Europe, China and Great Britain.

But on the positive side, the report highlighted the potential that Australia's unique geography and landscape offers for utilising solar power.

"Because of its efficiency relative to other forms of renewable energy and the fact that Australia is literally well placed for solar energy generation, the calculations that follow assume that solar energy is the likely main source of non-fossil fuel generated energy in the future," the report

According to the ASPI research, the area required for solar panels to meet the country's energy demands is just over 4,000 square kilometres - 0.05 per cent of Australia's land mass, or roughly 2.3 times the size of Sydney.

However, in order to harness the potential of solar power in the country, adequate technology and infrastructure would have to be put in place to make it a viable renewable energy source.

"It's necessary to have mechanisms in place to provide 'baseload' (the level that must always be available) and 'intermediate' (levels that are variable but predictable - such as mornings and evenings) power, with a surge capability for peak loads at other times," the report claimed.

"A recent survey found that, in the absence of a carbon price, the only source able to produce baseload power at a similar cost to coal would be nuclear fission."

Posted by Mike Peacock - Solar correspondent

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