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Australia

new green centre will research coal

The premier research group in Australia is poised to build a A$25 million renewable energy research and demonstration centre to serve as "a showcase for the Australian energy industry and its latest technologies." Despite its sustainable energy focus, the facility will also research fossil fuels.

Australia's premier research group, the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation (CSIRO), is poised to build a A$25 million renewable energy research and demonstration centre to serve as "a showcase for the Australian energy industry and its latest technologies." The announcement is being heralded by CSIRO as major shift from the organisation's current emphasis on coal research. The centre is proposed for Steel River, an abandoned steel works 120 kilometres north of Sydney. It will include an energy efficient building powered by photovoltaics and, possibly, a small wind farm, says David Williams of CSIRO's energy technology division.

The organisation's commitment to renewables appears lukewarm, however. Despite its sustainable energy focus, the CSIRO facility will also research fossil fuels. "Fossil fuels are part of a sustainable energy mix," according to Williams. Renewables are of "an order of magnitude" more expensive than fossil fuels, he adds. Williams' scepticism is shared by his boss. Speaking on Australian radio, CSIRO's chief executive, Malcolm McIntosh, said the organisation's definition of sustainable energy is "a more complicated one than simply the notion of solar and other things that can be replenished directly from the sun."

CSIRO is known for its contribution to a solar thermo-siphoning hot water system of the 1960s, after which it left renewables research. The coal industry contributes to 40% of the energy division's funding, but the division uses 70% of its budget on coal research. About A$5 million of the CSIRO budget is set aside for renewables each year. McIntosh says CSIRO will use its annual A$17 million of taxpayer funds to continue to place "a high priority on assistance to Australia's coal and power generation industries" while enhancing Australia's position as a so-called "world leader in clean, efficient energy production."

Although the centre was announced at a ceremony by state premier Bob Carr-six weeks before a state election-CSIRO does not plan to issue requests for proposals for the technology development needed until mid-2000, with construction expected to be completed between 2002-2004. Even with such a long time frame, CSIRO has not yet decided if it will monitor the site for its wind resource.

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