Sun Beginning to Shine on Australia and Solar Energy

November 3rd, 2010

In a land as sun-drenched as Australia, solar energy utilization naturally springs to mind. The amount of renewable energy generated by the numerous sunny days found in the nation is considerable, right? Sort of.

The potential is certainly there, but Australia is actually making use of solar energy at a relatively lower clip than other countries. Power produced from solar energy is called photovoltaic (PV) power, and as of last summer, Australia had approximately 115 MW of installed PV power. This contributes only 0.1% to 0.2% of Australia’s total electricity generation. The higher cost of solar panels in relation to other sources of energy accounts for some of the reluctance to embrace solar energy completely.

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This slower pace may soon change, however, due in part to proposed feed-in tariffs. These are essentially premium rates paid to generators of PV power for excess electricity generated. So if a homeowner installed solar panels and generated more electricity than was needed for the home, he or she could then sell the excess energy and feed it into the electricity grid.

Australia has also set renewable energy goals inspired by the Kyoto Protocol. In 2001, the Australian government created the Mandatory Renewable Energy Target. This calls for production of 9,500 GWh of electricity generated by means of renewable energy. The plan is to continue the strategy until at least 2020, which is the target year of several goals in other countries adopting the Kyoto Protocol.

Further demonstrating their hope to shed Australia’s reputation as behind the curve when it comes to solar energy, the Australian Government announced last year plans to construct the world’s largest solar power station. It will produce 1,000 MW of electricity and be a $1.4 billion investment. Currently, the biggest solar energy power plant is located in California and Australia hopes to triple the output of this station with the prospective plant to be built there. Not only would this plant help Australia leap to the forefront of solar energy utilization, it would create a multitude of jobs and boost the economy. After this plant is established, the intent is to create a network of solar energy plants nationwide. Locations would be chosen based on access to ample sunshine and proximity to the existing electricity grid.

Though Australia has lagged a bit in the solar energy industry, these plans in the works will drive them toward the front in the coming years.

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