Australia faces blackouts, builds major solar plant
SYDNEY, Oct 25: Australia will build the world's biggest solar power plant amid warnings of blackouts within five years unless it can increase electricity generation to meet growing demand for air conditioners.
With climate change becoming a major issue in Australia as a severe drought eats into economic growth and cities impose water restrictions, the government has begun to support alternative forms of energy.
Besides the new 420 million dollars solar power plant, the government also announced today a A360 million dollars pilot project to produce cleaner energy through brown coal drying and carbon capture and storage.
Australia, one of the world's biggest producers of greenhouse gases per capita, refuses to sign the Kyoto Protocol aimed at lowering greenhouse gases which cause global warming.
It is the world's largest coal exporter and relies on coal-fired power stations for its power supplies, supplemented with gas fired plants.
Environmentalists welcomed news of the solar power plant but were disappointed the government continued to fund coal power.
''This is a real shot in the arm for the local renewable energy industry,'' said Richard Corkish, head of Photovoltaic and Renewable Energy Engineering at the University of New South Wales. But he said the solar plant would still be small in comparison to Australia's coal-powered electricity plants.
''The government still does not get the simple fact that climate change cannot be dealt with by burning coal,'' said Danny Kennedy from environmental group Greenpeace.
''We need a long term energy policy that moves us away from our dependence on coal to real deep cuts in emissions and sustainable investment in genuine renewable energy technology. If we don't move away from coal, we won't deal with climate change.'' Australia's national power administrator has warned of blackouts and soaring electricity prices unless power generation was increased.
Demand for power in Australia's most populous state, New South Wales, may outstrip supply by 2010 or 2011, fuelled mainly by air-conditioning which is now a standard feature in new homes and which causes demand peaks during summer months, it said.
WORST DROUGHT The smaller states of Victoria, South Australia and Queensland could experience power blackouts much earlier, starting from 2008, said the National Electricity Market Management Company (NEMMC).
In its annual power report, NEMMC said Australia's eastern states, home to the bulk of the 20 million population, had enough electricity for a forecast scorching summer starting in December.
Australia is in the grip of the worst drought in 100 years and has experienced severe early season bushfires and record unseasonal temperatures as an El Nino develops, bringing hotter, drier conditions.
Treasurer Peter Costello said the new solar concentrator with a capacity of 154 megawatts would be built in Victoria state, and would reach full capacity by 2013.
''The project aims to build the biggest photovoltaic project in the world and this is by using mirrors which concentrate the sun's rays on a power plant,'' Costello said.
''It has no emissions and the power that can come from this plant can go onto the national grid,'' he said.