Australia: Greens push CSP project

With rising electricity prices and looming elections, energy policy is becoming a hot topic in Australia. In this environment, the Green political party has been advocating for renewable energy, with an Energy 2029 plan for the state of Western Australia (WA).

The plan advocates a range of renewable energy technologies, and points to the major role photovoltaics is playing in the vast and sunny state. However the Greens have suggested that a CSP plant be developed alongside a 100 MW photovoltaic array, on an inland site, which has already been proposed by developers.

Investec Bank Australia has proposed developing a 100 MW photovoltaic project in land set aside for "heavy industrial" development, near the city of Kalgoorlie. As a part of the photovoltaic power plant development, which was proposed for the Mungari industrial estate site, Datacenter Limited has proposed a data center at the site. In the hot semi-arid conditions, the electricity produced would presumably be used in cooling the data center.

The proposed park has been politically controversial, with the conservative State Government initially opposing the plant on planning grounds. The WA Greens continue to support the photovoltaic project at the site and have clashed with the government over the project. At the launch of the Energy 2029 plan, the political party has chosed to advocate a CSP plant at the site, along with the current photovoltaic application in place.

In announcing the proposal, Greens Senator Scott Ludlam emphasized that the electrical storage capacity of a CSP plant makes a very valuable renewable energy investment. "You can store the sun’s energy and then let it go after dark or in cloudy weather and effectively you can run solar power stations around the clock," said Ludlam. Local officials have also supported the plan saying that the benefits to the local region would be significant.

New funding is available for renewable energy development in Australia, and the Greens are proposing that the CSP project would be a worthy recipient. Under Australia’s carbon price regime, introduced in July 2012, the Clean Energy Finance Corporation (CEFC) was created, which will have AUD10 billion (US$10.33) to invest in clean energy. The Australian Broadcasting Corporation has reported that the CEFC will distribute AUD2 billion per annum for renewable energy development.

Whether the WA Greens’ proposal will have traction on the development of the site or in the forthcoming state and federal elections is still to be seen. The party has been advocating its plan in local communities and also in Parliament, hoping to promote the potential of CSP technology.

The WA election will take place on March 9 and an Australian federal election will be held in September 14.