Solar power – a no dawn start

Throughout the world research and development on energy is all about providing renewable base load power –something traditional solar photovoltaic and solar thermal generation has been unsuccessful at achieving. That is until now.


Last week a 19MW solar thermal plant at Fuentes de Andalucía in Spain, a property of Torresol Energy – a joint venture between Masdar, Abu Dhabi’s clean energy initiative and SENER, the leading Spanish engineering and construction company –supplied its first uninterrupted day of electricity to the network.


The Gemasolar project utilises mirrors which the suns radiates onto a receiver on a central tower through which molten salts flow.


The hot salts are used to generate steam to drive a turbine that produces electricity with the salts directed into storage tanks allowing 15 hours of electricity generation without any solar feed.


Another technology being developed by the US Department of Energy’s Idaho National Laboratory, the University of Manchester and the University of Colorado promises to deliver constant generation of electricity.


Billions of tiny antennae capture infra red radiation wavelengths, commonly known as heat, which are high during the day but are also emitted by the earth’s surface at night.


Laboratory tests have shown that those antennae have an efficiency level as high as 84%. Most rooftop solar PV panels run at about 18% efficiency.


These types of developments – and in the case of the Gemasolar plant actual results – have the potential to completely change the game of energy generation.


Solar is not quite ready to declare its independence from fossil fuels but with the right investment structures in place it could be a reality sooner than most people think.


Australia is the best-placed country in the world to take advantage of solar resources but we would need to significantly change the way new technologies are funded for those projects to go ahead.


According to the International Energy Agency solar has the potential to provide 5% of Australia’s power by 2020 and 40% by 2050.


Those estimates are very conservative in my opinion.


The Zero Carbon Australia Report shows that 100% of energy can come from renewable sources by 2020 without reducing our standard of living provided significant changes are made.


It is exciting to see these technologies developing and providing real renewable options for our future.


Crucial to the implementation of these technologies on a large scale is funding and investment, some of which will come from the proposed carbon tax.


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