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Australia Going Solar - Gonna Cost Ya, Mate

By John Daly | Sat, 03 December 2011 16:31 | 6

Green activists, take note – for Australia fully to embrace solar power, Canberra would have to spend $100 billion, with photovoltaic cells to generate the electricity covering an area twice the size of Sydney in order to replace Australia’s indigenous inexpensive coal-fired power plants with renewable energy sources.
 
This is not an insignificant figure, as Australian coal currently generates 80 percent of Australia's electrical energy output.
 
The grim statistic was contained in the recent report, “Keeping the Home Fires Burning,” issued by the Australian Strategic Policy Institute.
 
So, who is the Australian Strategic Policy Institute? Tree-hugging, wallaby and kangaroo friendly ecological leftists or energy company flacks?
 
Uh, no.
 
According to the Australian Strategic Policy Institute website, “ASPI is an independent, non-partisan policy institute. It has been set up by the government to provide fresh ideas on Australia's defense and strategic policy choices… It aims to help Australians understand the critical strategic choices which our country will face over the coming years, and will help government make better-informed decisions.”

Accordingly ASPI’s conclusions cannot be seen as either energy industry shills nor environmental advocates, which makes them accordingly worth careful consideration.

The report starts ominously, “Australia, like all modern economies, needs an assured supply of energy to function effectively. As a net exporter of energy, Australia is well placed in most respects. But we are still reliant on external sources of oil.”

Authors Andrew Davies and Edward Mortimer pull no punches, first noting that Australia's massive indigenous energy reserves of coal and natural gas would shield it from political disruptions in the Middle East before adding, ''The energy security policy challenges of the next 20 years are likely to pale into insignificance compared to those that will arise when the availability of fossil fuels declines significantly. Unfortunately, it doesn't look like renewable sources of energy will be able to provide adequate substitutes, at least based on current technology. Developing countries are even less likely to be able to adopt alternative energy sources on a large scale. As a result, any large reduction in fossil fuel usage will most likely be due to scarcity and price rather than choice. The timescale is decades rather than years, and the decline of existing fuel stocks will be gradual rather than precipitous, so there's scope for technological advances to come to the rescue - but there are no obvious solutions at the moment.''

So, solar power to the rescue? According to the authors, ''The requirement (to generate solar power per capita) can also be expressed as 200 square meters of panel per person, or about four times the average amount of roof area per person in Australia today.'' As for the country weaning itself off fossil fuel power and diverting to solar power generation, the authors conclude, “As a rough estimate, if the cost per panel could be halved (due to economies of scale), the total cost would be around $100 billion.”

What to do?

Davies and Mortimer suggest that in conjunction with neighbors New Zealand, Papua New Guinea and the Pacific Island countries Australia develop a strategic oil reserve to maintain transport and industry if and when Middle East disruptions imperil supplies.
For a government sponsored institute providing “fresh ideas,” ASPI seems stuck in a “business as usual” rut, looking at the immediate bottom line versus the long-term picture.

As for establishing an oil strategic reserve, the rising tensions in the Middle East over Iran’s nuclear programs could change the dynamics of Persian Gulf oil exports to East Asia long before strategic reserves could be established.

Australia does indeed have significant reserves of coal as well as access to natural gas, including the offshore Sunrise natural gas field, shared with Timor Leste and estimated to contain 5.1 trillion cubic feet of liquefied natural gas and 226 million barrels of condensate, the largest petroleum resource in the Timor Sea. Development of the field with Timor Leste has been blocked by disputes with the Timorese government for the last nine years.

Charming as the idea of boring holes in the ground and pumping Middle Eastern oil down them for a rainy day, would it not be in Australia’s interest to negotiate fairly with Timor Leste over the Sunrise field? Even if solar power gives Canberra sticker shock, it seems preferable to make local arrangements for more environmentally friendly fuels such as natural gas rather than continuing to import hydrocarbons from the Middle East or burning local coal. Best then, at the end of the day, it’s an economic issue, with quality of life considerations coming second.

But if Canberra has to give its energy import policies hostage to fortune, Timor Leste is a lot closer than the Persian Gulf.

By. John C.K. Daly of Oilprice.com

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  • Giorgio on December 03 2011 said:
    Well...It's like to talk about Speed Computer Processors in 1980!...If someone thought of internet like today with the 1980 systems maybe we needed some servers bigger than the Earth surface :-) Technology is our real friend so now we got that tech power with very small components...Well...Solar industry is the same...every day they it goes ahead...In the next future 12 sq feet panel could be enough to give electricity to 2 homes and for much much cheaper than now...In ITaly they'll get the Grid parity in 2013 and in France they are going to sell Solar Power at 10 cents per Kw...They are running very fast...like the Computer technology so...all these forecasts now are just a nice way to use "ink" but nothing more. ;-) Let them work and help them to give a real Energy Independence now and a much cheaper energy tomorrow cause with the Sun and the Technology is possible...with the Fossil Fuel...it's not possible cause since 100 years...the oil price grew year by year...
  • Mika Boston on December 04 2011 said:
    I constructed a solar power system by my self and it turned out pretty cheap, comparing with the price that companies set for solar power systems. You can find solar panel system construction instructions and guidelines online but it is very hard to find decent quality and well researched ones. In my opinion the best instruction solution i found on this page: http://nowtweet.it/6zrThe system i constructed following those instructions reduced my enegy bill arround 65-70% in summer and 50% max at winter, and it cost me under 1.000$, so the money back is pretty fast.If you are interested and handy person don't hesitate to build such a system. Solar panels are the energy resource of the future
  • Fred Banks on December 04 2011 said:
    Australia is rich enough to make mistakes. I also, strangely enough, have good memories about the students at the 5 or 6 universities where I did my song and dance. Hopefully however they will learn from those mistakes. And when Mr Obams's 2500 marines arrive, there will be enough beer left to quench their thirsts, because there isn't anything productive for them to do in that great country.
  • owen owens on December 04 2011 said:
    Once again this is altogether not true. It looks more like susie made a bad decision and needs to recoup some German investment money that went bad rather than take the fall herself. Bad advisors did not help the situtation, but since time is not on their side it was what the heck. Thanks for removeing this bit guys, so solar can look good in your eyes. :eek:
  • peter vincent on December 05 2011 said:
    Australias GDP is $1.2 Trillion, so for less than 10% of one years GDP, we can be compeltely renewable. Sounds good to me, where do I sign? Whats going to happen to power prices when the coal starts to run out? If we are prepared to spend $40b on the NBN to get faster downloads, surely a $100b investment in our future and the environment is a good investment.
  • Fred Banks on December 05 2011 said:
    My first appearance in Australia was in l978, when I taught mathematical economics in Sydney. On that occasion nobody - NOBODY - talked about or wanted to hear anything about nuclear.That isn't true today. It isn't true because people as smart as I am know that eventually Australia will have to consider the nuclear option, and when they do it is only a matter of time before the first reactor appears. And by the way, with the amount of uranium Australia is known to possess, they wont even have to construct the breeders that will be springing up elsewhere.As for being "completely renewable", that sounds to me like the kind of lie circulating in Germany, and also elsewhere.

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