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Solar thermal plants "hugely beneficial"

3rd Oct 2012

Proposals put forward by Beyond Zero Emissions (BZE) to replace coal-fired power plants in Port Augusta seem to be gaining momentum - both socially and politically.

The city in South Australia (SA) is home to the Playford B and Northern power stations - the only electricity generation facilities using brown coal, an emissions-intensive fuel.

However, these structures are now on their last legs and various industry commentators feel solar thermal replacements are the way forward, including the Greens.

Sarah Hanson-Young, the party's senator in SA, claimed a move towards base-load solar thermal facilities would be "hugely beneficial" for communities, the environment and the economy.

"Solar thermal power stations are able to store heat overnight, meaning the technology can deliver reliable and consistent electricity to customers around-the-clock in the same way a gas-powered station could," she stated.

That's not all. Hanson-Young was keen to point out that the sun is a much more efficient resource than non-sustainable options, being cleaner, safer and cheaper than fossil fuel alternatives.

In fact, she said, the sun is completely free to use, something that is unlikely to change anytime soon!

"With the price of gas set to be linked to the international price of oil, South Australians relying on gas power from Port Augusta would be hit by volatile and increasingly expensive electricity costs similar to what we already experience at the petrol pump," the politician added.

However, there are downsides. Most noticeably the cost of constructing solar thermal plants, which can be considered a hefty outlay in most cases.

But the senator believes this is more than accounted for by the long-term savings made on the use of fuel over the years compared with traditional plants.

Much of the support for solar thermal came after a recent report by BZE championed the technology, adding that it would lead to 1,800 jobs in the region and a reduction in annual carbon emissions by five million tonnes.

In the report, the think-tank described it as a "once in a generation opportunity" that everyone in the country should get behind.

The government's Renewable Energy Target aims to have 20 per cent of energy in Australia generated through sustainable sources - a feat SA has already achieved.

According to Hanson-Young, the state is already leading the country in terms of a focus on renewable technology, but now it is time to widen the scope to a global platform.

Posted by Mike Peacock

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