Australian solar now lags behind innovative SA projects | Infrastructure news

Giles Parkinson writes on that the failure of support systems in Australia means that South Africa now leads with solar projects and Australia follows.
“It is ironic that in the same week that the ambitious AUD1.2-billion (R10.9 billion) Solar Dawn solar thermal project in south-west Queensland should finally be put to rest, construction of two solar thermal projects – with storage – should begin in South Africa.
The last chance for the Solar Dawn consortium led by French nuclear giant Areva for the construction of a 250MW solar thermal plant in Queensland, or even a scaled down version of it, was removed when the Australian Renewable Energy Agency rejected its funding proposal – after the federal government had done so under the previous Solar Flagships programme.”
This while in South Africa, the Spanish company Abengoa began construction of two projects, the 50 MW Khi Solar One and the 100 MW KaXu Solar One concentrated solar power, will feature and dry cooling technologies, to reduce water demands.
Parkinson is of the opinion that these types of projects should in fact be pioneered and deployed in Australia. However, he adds that “Australia’s obsession with grandiose schemes, its inflexible funding arrangements, and the lack of true support from state governments and major utilities, mean South Africa will lead and Australia will follow.
“The failure of the Solar Flagships programme, or the inability of various projects to lock in power price arrangements is not a failure of technology, as many would like to portray it, but a failure of policy – where the hubris of government overwhelms sound technical advice from the industry. It was an idea dreamed up by the egos in the office of [Australian] Prime Minister Kevin Rudd, and the bureaucrats were never able to meet the impossible task of matching such grandiose dreams – of having the biggest, but not necessarily the best – with sound policies.”
The one opportunity that Australia now has for a solar thermal project in the short term may well be in Port August, where Alinta has held some discussions with Arena, for a possible replacement of its coal-fired power stations there. What they may propose, however, is a hybrid system no dissimilar to the solar booster that is currently being built in Queensland by Areva.
The importance of solar should not be underestimated. The authorities in Australia estimate that by 2050, almost 16% of the country’s electricity demand could be sourced from solar thermal and that is considered as conservative.
Says Parkinson: “South Africa is succeeding with stand-alone systems because it has introduced a market-focused system that has successfully attracted many of the world’s largest solar and other alternative energy developers, through an auction-based system that has attracted billions in its first two auctions. The tragedy is that those projects could, and should, have been built first in Australia. But Australia was too obsessed with projects of a grandiose nature that it lost the opportunity.”
As part of the REIPPP, the Khi Solar One and KaXu Solar One projects both have power purchase agreements with Eskom in place, and financing with a range of South African and international financial institutions.




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