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Australia Begins Operations at First Solar Plant

Brian Hicks

Written By Brian Hicks

Posted October 11, 2012

Yesterday, Australia commenced operations with its first utility-scale solar farm. The Greenough River Solar facility was developed as a joint venture between Western Australia state-owned Verve Energy and General Electric (NYSE: GE).

The facility is designed to produce 10 megawatts, or enough power for 3,000 households. Power from the plant will be purchased by Western Australia Water Corp. to run a local desalination facility.

Reuters reports:

“The Greenough River Solar Farm demonstrates that renewable technologies can contribute to meeting Australia’s future energy needs on a sustainable, cost-competitive basis,” Jason Waters, chief executive of Verve Energy said on Wednesday.

The project marks Australia’s progress toward its goal of obtaining 20 percent of all national power needs from renewable sources by 2020. Major coal and gas-based utility companies are protesting against the national goal, calling for reductions in generation targets.

But despite these protests, the farm is already undergoing further development which will expand its total output to 40 MW.

Australia boasts the highest average solar radiation per square meter out of all the world’s continents and a very low population density—features that make the country a wonderful place for intensive solar power development.

Currently, the country gets 10 percent of its total electricity supply from renewable sources, and roughly two-thirds of that stems from hydro power.

As mentioned earlier, several utility and energy companies have highlighted their opposition to Australia’s renewable energy targets; the chief complaint is that the goals are too ambitious.

Those targets are presently under review by the nation’s Climate Change Authority, and a report will be issued by the end of this year. Those who would like to see Australia become a leader in renewables claim that reducing these targets would artificially suppress an emerging industry.

Current targets require 41,000 gigawatt-hours of the country’s energy requirements to come from renewables by 2020.

Complaints from utilities hold that the stated goal of 41,000 GWh would actually represent a quarter of the total electricity supply by 2020 due to sluggish growth in electricity demand; in other words, it would well exceed the 20 percent stipulation. The companies appear to be thinking of their own bottom lines, and the situation remains unstable.

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