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Solar power project '4 times size of Sydney' to go ahead

31 July, 2013

Federal Minister for Climate Change, Mark Butler has announced construction will start in January on the largest solar power station in the southern hemisphere after the Australian Renewable Energy Agency (ARENA) reached financial close with AGL Energy Limited (AGL).

Butler said the project will be built across two sites in Western NSW and will cover a combined area four times the size of the Sydney CBD.

"Australia has the highest average solar radiation per square metre of any continent in the world and we should take advantage of that natural asset," Butler said.

"This project is 15 times larger than any other solar power station in Australia and represents a big step forward towards making solar a bigger part of Australia's energy mix.

"The Rudd government is committed to transitioning Australia to a clean energy future and this combined 155 megawatt solar project helps make renewable energy cost competitive for more Australians."

Minister for Resources and Energy Gary Gray said this was a major milestone for AGL and the Government and would help boost investor confidence in large utility-scale solar.

"Reaching financial close and progressing to construction is a major achievement paving the way for future investment and meaning that, in a short time, an additional 50,000 homes across New South Wales will be powered by clean energy each year," Gray said.

AGL, together with solar developer First Solar, will construct a solar power plant near Nyngan (102MW) in central New South Wales and another near Broken Hill (53MW) which together will create over 450 local jobs during construction.

Butler said this strategic investment was part of the Labor government's broader efforts to stimulate investment in renewable energy in Australia. In addition to the $166.7 million the federal government is investing through ARENA, it is also providing $40.7 million under the Education Investment Fund to assist the University of Queensland and the University of New South Wales conduct related solar power research.

"Labor's $3 billion Australian Renewable Energy Agency and $10 billion Clean Energy Finance Corporation are designed to drive significant renewable energy investment and this is a great example of a flagship solar project for Australia," Butler said.

"Combined with the Renewable Energy Target of at least 20 per cent by 2020 and the establishment of the Emissions Trading Scheme, we are already seeing the results of Labor's reforms.

"Since 2007, Australia's wind capacity has trebled and Labor has supported the installation of more than 1 million solar panels, up from just over 7000 under the Howard government.

"Carbon pollution in the National Electricity Market is down by around seven per cent in the last year and renewable energy generation like wind and solar power is up by 25 per cent in the same period.

"And there are now around 24,000 people employed in the clean energy jobs of the future, more than double the estimated 10,000 employed five years ago."

Construction is scheduled to commence next year in January at Nyngan and in July at Broken Hill.

The NSW government will also invest $64.9 million in the project and recently approved the Development Applications for the Nyngan and Broken Hill solar plants.

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Leon Ernst | Monday, August 5, 2013, 11:09 AM
This is very interesting but what this means is that many thousands of tons of coal will be burnt in another place to supply the energy to make the solar cells and in return we get the daylight supply of electric energy with other sources still having to supply the base load because this type of energy cant be economically stored for night use. a net energy equation favours direct heat generation with a solar-mirror arrangement and this energy can be stored for night use. in my opinion, Governments should not determine, by way of subsdy, technology direction particularly when such directions are based on political rather than real issues.
Er.Faisal Ansari | Monday, August 5, 2013, 11:22 AM
your project is really good & it will be better if you will use sun tracking solar pannels. Thanks for the mail.. again thanks & regards.
dave d | Monday, August 5, 2013, 3:57 PM
Please tell me that this is part of the job "creation" we have all been promised -like locally made Solar Panels -local firms employed in construction -but I bet you we don't see this - once again there will be some excuse as to why we have to use imported material ,imported expertise etc.etc.
Bruce | Monday, August 5, 2013, 4:33 PM
Well this just proves my point. How crazy is this?: Both Nyngan (102MW Rated capacity) and Broken Hill (53MW Rated capacity) are too far away from the population centers that require this power to be a credible source of supply. What a lot of people forget is that when they talk about RATED capacity of solar cells, that is just the theoretical capacity, not the actual capacity which depends on many factors including internal and external limiting conditions. The actual capacity varies considerably and is not dependable or calculable except that experience has shown it can be less than 25% of the rated capacity. So even before you start to transmit this power you only have (if you take Broken hill for example) 25% of 102MW = 25MW. Then because solar power is generated at low voltage DC you have to step it up to high voltage AC in order to transmit it. This process will reduce the available power by about 25%. So you now have 75% of 25MW = 19MW. Then you have to overcome the resistance of the transmission line which can reduce the available power by another 20%: 20% of 19MW = 15MW. Then when you get it to where you want to use it you have to reduce it back down to a usable voltage which can knock off another 20%. So you only end up with 12MW out of a rated capacity of 102MW that you can effectively add to the power grid. This is no more than a drop in the ocean compared with the 10,000MW average and 15,000MW peak demand of the NSW power grid, AND it could only be applied when the sun was shining brightly at zenith position. Every degree away from zenith reduces available power due to attenuation of the suns energy through a greater length of atmosphere. So at 6.00PM when demand is at peak there is nothing contributed by this huge 4 times the size of Sydney WHITE ELEPHANT. - Bang goes another 64.9 million dollars of our NSW taxes and another 166.7 million dollars of our federal taxes. All this and you are not even considering the huge cost of maintenance and replacement on an installation of this size. Apart from their huge initial cost, solar cells deteriorate rapidly due to their necessarily constant exposure to direct sun and weather conditions. One does think that our hard earned money might be better spent on things that could really make a difference in our lives instead of airy-fairy pie-in-the-sky pipe dreams.
Barry M | Monday, August 5, 2013, 4:38 PM
Yet another moombeam from a larger lunacy.
dave d | Monday, August 5, 2013, 4:44 PM
Well ,what do you know - found this on the web -good old USA based First Solar, which has operated the first large-scale solar plant in Australia since last October in WA, will provide engineering and construction services for both projects, using its advanced thin-film PV modules (another fine Australian manufactured product -not!!) Making up for the disappearance of FORD I guess??
Joanna van der Drift | Monday, August 5, 2013, 5:05 PM
Why not North Queensland? We have the space and the sunshine!
Goldie | Monday, August 5, 2013, 6:09 PM
Perhaps Mark Bultler could have a chat with his state counterparts as they are running a hate campaign against domestic solar panel owners and see no value in it whatsoever, unless of course they were to get the rooftop solar power for nothing then they would be the best thing since sliced bread. Any initiative which impacts a state run business like power generation and distribution will, sooner rather than later, be attacked by said owner. Solar panel owners in Qld are not on the Premier's Xmas mailing list despite the fact the sun shines a lot up here.
ceirano | Monday, August 5, 2013, 10:59 PM
Bruce is right!! Another blunder of gigantic proportions. It will cost billions & will reduce the speculated temperature rise on this earth by absolutely zero. Who will pay for it? You & me in higher power costs. CO2 has yet to be proven as the culprit.
Bruce | Tuesday, August 6, 2013, 3:00 AM
I agree Northern Queensland would be a better proposition in regard to collecting more energy from sunlight with the same array. However, you then run into problems in the conversion and transmission of this power due to the enormous iron and line losses in such a necessarily long transmission line to get it to a point where it can tap into the Queensland power grid or even a sufficiently large population center to make it economically viable. While on the topic of economic viability, I have no problem with individuals who wish to install an array on their roof. A typical domestic array usually has a rated capacity of about 2.5KW of electricity. Which will actually provide on a sunny day up to 1KW maybe. That is not even enough to brown a piece of toast or boil your jug. So if you are prepared to wait for about ten years to recoup your initial outlay then good luck to you. I hope for your sake solar cells don't become cheaper to install over the next ten years, but it is feasible that you may save a few dollars. That is your risk and does not cost me anything. But when governments invest our tax dollars into a huge wasteful attempt to replace a power station with such a costly inefficient white elephant with no chance of ever recovering any of that outlay, then that I do have objections about. If they think it is such a good investment then let private enterprise take the risk and don't waste our money that would be better used for schools, hospitals, roads or more tangible, beneficial infrastructure.
Lionel Fisher | Tuesday, August 6, 2013, 8:05 AM
Another Labor Party taxpayer funded disaster in waiting. Too much money, too little benefit. Another Govt snow job on the gullible public.
Helen | Tuesday, August 6, 2013, 10:40 AM
Yeah Bruce, more roads so we can have more cars and more pollution. Do you actually have anything constructive to say about power generation?
Joanna | Tuesday, August 6, 2013, 1:32 PM
When it comes to helping to reduce our carbon footprint any measure taken to do this is a golden opportunity to push for political support, ie major tax breaks for companies who opt for establishing a solar and wind energy company especially in North Queensland. With the right sort of PR many North Queenslanders would support this. We do not have a choice of power supply up here. I honestly believe if you canvassed the population most would put out their hands and probably some funds to get it up and running. About more roads needed, comes with the territory but so are Hybrid cars better and eventually solar powered rail could help. For once can we get past the need for profit as the first factor to consider!
dave d | Tuesday, August 6, 2013, 3:09 PM
Again i ask what is in it for Australian business? This "First Solar" is a USA based company - The panels are made where? The Engineers involved are from what country ? These are the things that should be questioned on any Australian funded project.
Goldie | Tuesday, August 6, 2013, 5:49 PM
Bruce, After reading your last comment I assume you do not have rooftop solar at your place. I have a 3KW rooftop solar system that has significantly reduced my quarterly power bills down from about $400 per Qtr to approx $150 but can go up to $200 if we have a lot of bad weather as we have this winter. Factoring in almost certain increased pricing I would say my system will pay for itself in 8-10 years and maybe earlier if the crazy price rises continue. Household systems can make a difference but will never be allowed to as they are competing with state government run power companies and they won't have that. Sounds like a conflict of interest to me.
Mike Van Emmerik | Tuesday, August 6, 2013, 11:15 PM
Transmission losses are nothing like 25%. Per http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Electric_power_transmission#Losses, losses are around 6.5% across a country the size of the USA (about the same as Australia). Also, when the sun is shining, you get about 90% of the rated power of a panel, with about 5% loss in the inverter. It is even possible to get about 105% of rated power in odd conditions. However, I do think that the money would be better spent on a solar thermal system, rather than more photovoltaics. A system this size could cause stability problems with the intermittency of PV.
Trevor | Wednesday, August 7, 2013, 11:13 AM
Putting all of this discussion aside for one moment. WHAT IS IN THIS FOR AUSTRALIAN COMPANIES AND AUSTRALIAN WORKERS? All materials should be sourced from Australian manufacturers and and all labour sourced from Australia before going off shore. We are a brilliant country with some very clever people, why go off shore for the technology and intellegence. Only if a product can not be sourced in Australia should the Government look overseas. It is afterall, our AUSTRALIAN Government, not the world government. LOOK AFTER AUSTRALIA FIRST. Mind you if we did that then RUDD 747 would not have any reason to be our of the country more than he is in it. I am so frustrated with our system of government. Both parties are more worried about how they look to other countries and what can we do for them instead of worring about our country which is also their country, not that you would know it. It is time to get a goverment that thinks Australia first. I think I will be voting for the Rise Up Australia party at this election.
Bruce | Thursday, August 8, 2013, 2:08 AM
Mike, the losses you are quoting refer to giant 1200kV cross country lines in the USA. We don't use those voltages in Australia (11/22/33kv is our norm). We are talking about a small, possibly 11 or 22kv line to transmit ~25MW from the array to nearest GEP. I could not imagine they would be able to step up a 12v DC array up to 33kv AC. Here is a quote for you:--->http://www.em-ea.org/Guide%20Books/book-3/Chapter%203.1%20Elecrical%20Systems%20.pdf <--- "The power loss in line is proportional to resistance and square of current. (i.e. PLoss=I2R). Higher voltage transmission thus would help to minimize line voltage drop in the ratio of voltages, and the line power loss in the ratio of square of voltages. For instance, if distribution of power is raised from 11 kV to 33 kV, the voltage drop would be lower by a factor 1/3 and the line loss would be lower by a factor (1/3)2 i.e., 1/9." Lower voltage transmission also calls for bigger size conductor on account of current handling capacity needed. Supply authorities usually try to strike a balance between the length of line, its diameter and current carrying requirements. A line loss of 20-25% is sometimes economically acceptable. In other countries like India e.g. line losses of 58% is considered quite normal. ...As for the second part of your argument, I have heard claims like this before from sales people trying to get me to install a solar array on my roof so here's another quote for you:-->http://www.investopedia.com/articles/mortgages-real-estate/10/solar-power-home.asp <--- "Solar panel size is quoted in terms of the theoretical electrical output potential in watts. However, the typical output realized for installed PV systems - known as the "capacity factor" - is between 10% and 20% of the theoretical output. A 3 kilowatt-hour (kWh) household system running at a 15% capacity factor would produce 3kW*15%kW or 450 watts"....So it seems my estimate was fairly generous. As for the inverters... I have yet to come across one that could produce 75% efficiency in the field let alone its Manufacturer's claimed 80% under ideal laboratory conditions. Thanks Mike for your comment but if, as I suspect you have a vested interest, then it would be nice if you stated this in your remarks.
Bruce | Thursday, August 8, 2013, 2:13 AM
Hi Goldie, you are really doing well with your Solar array. You have obviously bought yourself a high quality unit and had it set up just right. I think you probably also live in a very sunny part of the world. As you say at that rate you should recover your outlay in 10 years and then you can start pocketing your savings. Quality solar panels should last well over 10 years, but the output will diminish with time. Just looking at your figures I'm wondering if your energy provider is compensating you at a rate based on the rated capacity of your array rather than the amount of energy that you are actually returning to the System?
Bruce | Thursday, August 8, 2013, 2:24 AM
Trevor and Dave, I'm sorry guys, there doesn't seem to any info on Solar First's intentions re Nyngan. All we have is the Company's history, track record and market performance. Non of which reads well. They had a net loss of 96.3M in the 2011-12 F/Y due to restructuring after a pull-back out of Europe and Asia apparently because their roof-top modules were not well received. (One wonders why). Their HQ is in Arizona and their panel manufacturing plant is in Ohio. They make a cell that consists of a glass panel coated with a thin film of Cadmium Telluride which supposedly has a higher output than Crystaline Silicon and for which they are claiming an efficiency rate of up to 18.7% (sort of puts me in mind of those new LED lights that burn brighter using less power but don't last very long).... After dropping the rooftop modules they decided to concentrate instead on supplying mass utility infrastructure. Why? Could it be that Utilities would be forced to have them replace burned-out panels? I have no idea, its just that their website does infer that a good part of their business comes from replacing and recycling burned-out panels. One does wonder why they would mention that? Is it because they are toxic, or just burn out quicker?..... They do all the utilities installation and maintenance work themselves using their own panels. So it does look as if they would not be requiring any Aussie assistance in this regard. Just reading between the lines here guys, just my opinion and guesswork. Some Aussie companies do stock Cadmium panels but I have not found any Aussies who manufacture them, possibly due to toxicity concerns.
Alan H. | Thursday, August 8, 2013, 2:34 PM
Everyone complains that these projects are out past the Black Stump and that transmission losses are too high. I agree. What puzzles me is that, in our larger metropolitan areas like Brisbane, Sydney, Melbourne, Gold Coast and many others, we have thousands upon thousands of large factories and warehouses all around the country. Why can't we put solar panels on them? The tyrany of distance defeated in one go. Legislate to put solar panels WHERE the most power is used. Now there's a novel idea, but because some f-witted politician or dipstick bureaucrat didn't think of it, it won't get run. The "Not Invented Here" syndrome is alive and well and living in all government spheres.
Goldie | Thursday, August 8, 2013, 5:24 PM
Alan H. I see what you are saying regarding the available roof space in cities but it will never be taken up and here is why. There are tens of thousands of domestic rooftop systems around Australia and a few years back governments at the state and federal level thought they were just great, so much so they gave some financial reward for those who installed them. Fast forward to today and few if any state governments or the Feds for that matter want anymore to do with them, in fact they have become quite hostile about feed in tariffs. The owners (mostly state governments) of the existing generation and distribution networks have now drastically reduced what they pay for excess electricity generated from rooftop soalr systems. They say it has been worked out and in Qld for example they say it is only worth 8c/kw/hr. Consider the fact they paid only a small percentage of the cost of the systems, they pay nothing to maintain them and they also pay nothing for the space (private rooftops) on which the panels are located. With this precedent, there is no way they will pay an owner of a large warehouse what he thinks the space is worth and he will want something. Domestic rooftop systems are no different to what is being proposed in that when the sun goes down, no more power. If they encouraged more home owners to take them up and upgrade the local networks to cope with it, it may just be cheaper but I won't hold my breath. Sorry for the diatribe.
Joanna | Thursday, August 8, 2013, 7:39 PM
My local paper published my view on the issue of Solar Power being a money making issue. The whole process was supposed to be a move to decrease our dependence on Coal generated power so we would reduce our carbon footprint. Every time I see people go on about the cost factor and who will gain what and how long it will take to achieve a profit makes my teeth ache! Explain the financial benefit to the pacific islanders who see their land going under water. Explain to me the lunacy of legalistic debate as to who will own the mineral rights of countries or island states that are below sea level. Beam me up Scottie!
Bruce | Friday, August 9, 2013, 1:52 PM
Every time I see people go on about the possibility of getting something for nothing it makes my teeth ache. I feel they must be off with the fairies or in some cases off with Captain Kirk on the Enterprise. No doubt some day we will be able to get power from Lithium Crystals but our current level of technology does not allow us to replace a 5,000MW power station with a 25MW solar cell even if it is 4 times the size of Sydney. Its Just the reality of the situation. If people don't like using coal, then the alternative is clean Eco-friendly Nuclear...(OOps.. Did I say a dirty word!?). The world is experiencing climate change but its not because of CO2, its just part of the natural cycle of this planet. The shifting of the crust plates causes pacific islands to come and go. That's been happening since the world began and while I do sympathise with their inhabitants I am more concerned with the current plight of thousands of my fellow Australians who can't afford life saving drugs, have to wait years for life saving operations or even to get to see a doctor while the Government is wasting billions pandering to people who want to "Beam up with Scottie".
Mike Van Emmerik | Friday, August 9, 2013, 10:54 PM
Bruce, I believe that the losses transmitting 25 MW over short distances (solar farm to nearest stiff grid connection) would be well within the 6.5% that is for a whole country. Solar panels aren't 12 VDC - most panels are nominally 24 VDC, and generate maximum power at around 35-40 V. They are often connected in series strings of about 10 or more panels, for ~ 400 VDC. This can readily be inverted to AC of any potential, certainly 33 kV or even 66 kV or more. I'm well aware of the benefits of transmitting at high voltages. The capacity factor of an electric generator takes into account its availability over time. So while a solar panel's capacity factor may be 15%, that just means that for much of the time, it is either night time or there is rain or cloud. So a 3kW nominal system with 15% capacity factor is like 450 W generating continuously 24/7. Forgive me if I misread you; it sounded to me that you were claiming that a 3 kW nominal system would only generate some 450 W in "real world conditions", even with full sunshine. I don't know where you get the maximum 75% efficiency for inverters. If a 3 kW inverter is 75% efficient, then it is drawing 4kW and wasting 1 kW. One kilowatt of heat is quite a lot, like a toaster. I have no vested interest in any panels, inverters, etc. Like many people, I do have a PV system on my roof.
ceirano | Monday, August 12, 2013, 10:58 PM
Please JOANNA get with the real science. Until we have improved & cheaper storage devices, solar power is a costly mistake. We need CO2 to improve our food production, it is NOT a pollutant. There are thousands of real scientists throughout the world who have the science, not speculative, & who don't believe CO2 is polluting our planet. Climate change is cyclic & will occur regardless of all we do to avoid it. We might as well attempt to change the earth's orbit.
Joanna | Tuesday, August 13, 2013, 10:15 AM
To ceirano,I did not say CO2 is a pollutant,it is all the other additives that come from burning fossil fuels that are making things harder for our environment. Methane for one. The push to reduce our carbon footprint is as much a commercially driven imperative as an environmental issue. Yes the process is cyclical but our pillaging its underground resources is making it almost a non-issue. As de-salination occurs the methane and CO2 in the deeper ocean will rise and then we will see how well humans can survive when the extreme processes to re-stabilise everything starts. Crust movement,venting..earthquakes, volcanic eruptions, oops, its already happening?! The fact that the balance of CO2 is dependent on trees and in general vegetation to absorb and thus produce the O2 that we need to breath we also the have progressive decimation of forests (Amazon rainforests i.e)to make way for crops (GMO poisonous type or other)which is progressively altering the delicate balance. The biology of human beings has a homeostatic mechanism, so does the planet we inhabit. We are wrecking its lungs and its cooling ability and stressed organism overheats. As to what each Scientist says will depend on who is funding his research grants!
33noa333 | Thursday, August 15, 2013, 3:29 PM
see what South Korea is doing and recommeding to the rest of the world. South Korea very economical cost to build 3.4 billion tidal power plant 1320 megawatt at artificial sea water lake Shihwa see: Mitic energy and climate http://climatechangeauthority.gov.au/sites/climatechangeauthority.gov.au/files/SUB-RET-2012-005.pdf