Catching up with solar

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Australia is a sun-burnt country. When the Australian public thinks of renewable energy it is generally of direct solar technologies such as photo-voltaics and solar thermal. However, at December's conference of the Australian and New Zealand Solar Energy Society (ANZSES-SOLAR '93), wind energy in Australia showed signs of catching on. Following the announcement at the conference of a detailed research strategy for renewables, news was also released by the Energy Research and Development Corporation (ERDC) of efforts to promote a national wind energy strategy.

The ERDC was established in 1990 to manage the federal government's investment in energy research and has a wide brief, covering the full range of research activities from devising concepts through to commercialisation. Its new renewables strategy, developed in consultation with ANZSES and other parties, establishes priorities in research investment. Conference delegates learned that it includes detailed five, ten, 15 and 20 year targets for the adoption of renewables with an ultimate goal of achieving 10% of Australian electricity supply and 20% of process and domestic heat from renewable sources. Wind has no specific target within the strategy, but the ERDC is working with the Electricity Supply Association of Australia to promote a national wind energy strategy. The corporation observes that its goals for renewables will not be met by basic research alone and co-ordination with other government, as well as industry action is needed to get the market moving. Its efforts on behalf of wind energy are in recognition of this fact.

Catalyst for debate

A catalyst for the growing policy debate in Australia has been the establishment by both federal and state governments of interim planning targets for greenhouse gases. A target of stabilising emissions to 1988 levels by the year 2000 has been adopted, followed by further reductions of 20% by the year 2005, subject to this not incurring a net economic disadvantage relative to other countries.

Australian energy utilities are also entering a period of unprecedented structural change. Michael Carr, manager of the Renewable Energy Group at the State Energy Commission of Western Australia presented to the conference an analysis of the regulatory frameworks used in California and the United Kingdom to facilitate the adoption of renewable energy technologies by utilities. These regulatory frameworks and renewable energy incentives are being suggested as possible models for Australian utilities.

With over 250 delegates from countries in the Asia-Pacific region, the conference demonstrated the growing regional impact of Australia's renewable energy industry. The increasing sophistication of the industry was also evidenced by the large proportion of presentations on marketing, policy and other non-technical issues. The conference location, Perth in Western Australia, placed it in the heartland of Australia's wind energy industry. Not only is Perth the base of activities for several small wind turbine manufacturers, but also services the promising Western Australian wind-diesel market.

Wind energy's advantage over other renewable energy sources was highlighted in the opening presentations of the conference. Key note speaker, Carl Weinberg, formerly of Californian utility Pacific Gas and Electric, expressed the belief that "wind energy has the potential to contribute the greatest number of clean megawatts over the next 20 years."

The specialist technical papers on wind concentrated on Australia's growing expertise with wind-diesel and small scale wind systems. Systems discussed ranged in size from kilowatt scale wind-diesel systems for islands and isolated aboriginal communities through to the utility scale 2.2 MW Esperance wind farm recently established by the State Energy Commission of Western Australia. One paper addressed the demanding requirements of wind systems in the Antarctic where survival wind speeds of 90 m/s and temperatures as low as -40¡ C have to be routinely withstood.

Demonstrating the export potential of Australian wind systems, Westwind Turbines announced at the conference a deal to supply 15 wind turbines to China (Windpower Monthly, January 94). These developments attest to an industry gearing up to meet the demanding challenges of stand alone power supply in remote areas.

Asian markets

A feature of the conference was the number of papers presented by delegates from the South East Asian region. This region is seen as an important potential market for Australia's renewable energy technologies. Australia's prospects for servicing this market have been greatly improved by the recent decision by the United Nations Industrial Development Organisation to establish a Centre for Applications of Solar Energy (CASE) in Perth, Western Australia. The aim of CASE is to stimulate appropriate applications of solar energy and solar energy related industrial developments within developing countries. The centre's brief includes both direct solar and indirect solar energy technologies such as wind.

However, the content of papers from ASEAN (Association of South-East Asian Nations) delegates dealt almost exclusively with photo-voltaics programmes. Meanwhile, elsewhere at the conference, wind turbine manufacturers were demonstrating the ability to supply cost competitive renewable energy technology to developing and industrialising countries. If wind energy is to secure large markets in the Asia-Pacific region its advantages, over not only conventional technologies but also other renewable energy sources, need to be strongly advertised.

Focus on policy

Policy awareness chairman of ANZSES, Steve Szokolay, pointed out that Australia has world-class technology in the areas of solar water heating, solar cells and the development of wind and solar power supplies for remote areas, but the technology is under-utilised. He cited government policies, lack of consumer awareness and fossil fuel subsidies as the non-technical barriers to be overcome if Australia is to reap the tremendous financial and environmental benefits from an industry with huge export potential in the Asia-Pacific region. In acknowledgement of the importance of non-technical barriers, a major focus of the conference was on policy and related issues.

With both technical and non-technical barriers being overcome, renewable energy in Australia is set to make a significant impact on both domestic and regional markets. It remains to be seen how large a contribution it will make to the mix of renewable energy technologies that will be adopted. For the Australian wind energy industry to meet its full potential it must compete effectively with both fossil fuel based generation and other renewable technologies.

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