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A business on the brink of boom in Australia

The Australian wind business is still small by world standards and the technology still new, but at a recent conference current players were keen to consolidate their successes so far and to look forward as an industry to meeting new challenges

Installed wind capacity in Australia is on the way up. Although there are less than 100 MW of wind power stations turning today, new projects in the pipeline, driven mainly by the Australian mandated renewable energy target, will see wind become the dominant non fossil fuel generation source over the coming decade. Such was the sentiment that set the tone for the IBC Australian Wind Energy conference held in Melbourne at the end of April. The industry is still small, but it is preparing to boom.

Industry players, including Gary Fourie of Vestas, spoke of growth expectations that will see 2000-3000 MW of installed wind power plant by 2010. With hoped-for increases in the mandated renewables target, the Australian Wind Energy Association, however, is aiming for 5000 MW in the same period.

Despite the expectations for growth, the wind industry is still an emerging one in Australia and there are many issues to be tackled, ranging from government policy and community attitudes to connecting wind plant to the transmission network. Conference papers not only highlighted these important issues, however. They also made it clear that no longer will the wind power industry be confined to a handful of active renewable energy companies -- it is becoming big business. The spectrum of delegates present was representative of the mounting interest in investment opportunities.

Speakers from the sustainable energy authorities of Australia's most populous states, Victoria and New South Wales, presented an overview of their position on integrating wind power. Although delegates were clearly heartened that the authorities are beginning to shoulder a role in facilitating appropriate wind development, it nonetheless seemed that there is still a long way to go before industry and government are entirely comfortable with one another.

David Young of Victoria's Sustainable Energy Authority, who chairs the steering committee devising the state's pending statutory wind farm policy and guidelines, said he was unconvinced that wind would realise its full potential in Victoria. Wind power was at a crossroads in the state, he continued. "The next 18 months to two years will set the tone for the Australian market."

optimistic

Andrew Williamson of the New South Wales Sustainable Energy Development Authority (SEDA) presented a more optimistic view and actively invited wind project developers to the state. Its progressive policies, which include a partnership program under which SEDA works together with private developers on a range of projects, is still largely untested.

Another area of importance, which so far has not been as problematic for developers outside of Western Australia, is the issue of energy management over the National Electricity Market. Ian Arnott from the National Electricity Market Management Company (NEMMCO) specifically talked about the issue of short-term wind forecasting and potential difficulties for electricity system managers in accommodating the ups and downs of wind plant output. By asking questions of the industry he highlighted areas where NEMMCO may need to devise new categories to take wind generation into account in its dispatch process, among other issues.

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