Government plays Enviro-Santa

The government announced yesterday $75 million dollars for a 154 MW concentrated solar power plant to be built in rural northern Victoria. Although the Peter Costello claims its going to cost $280 million, the company building the project Solar Systems, say it will cost $420 million. An additional $50 million is being contributed by Victoria. Perhaps PC is talking about the private costs and has missed $15 million?

The company describes the technology like this.

The power station will use technology known as ‘Heliostat Concentrator Photovoltaic’ (HCPV). It will consist of fields of heliostats (sun-tracking mirrors) focusing sunlight on receivers. The receivers house photovoltaic (PV) modules, which consist of arrays of ultra high-efficiency solar cells that convert the sunlight directly into electricity. Photovoltaic literally means ‘electricity-from-light’. The heliostat control system, PV modules and cooling system are patented by Solar Systems.

Solar Systems has collaborated with US company Spectrolab (a Boeing company) to optimise ultra high efficiency space technology for earth based power stations. The resulting photovoltaic cell arrays are three times more efficient than typical solar panels. Further cell efficiency improvements are underway.
This is a new generation of solar technology,” Mr Lasich said. “The secret is to be able to make a solar power module work about 1500 times harder than typical solar panels. If you can do this at high efficiency using low cost materials, you have the recipe for an infinite supply of clean energy at an affordable price. “This new power station will demonstrate these principles and produce the most affordable solar energy yet generated.”

While its encouraging to see some action by the government on renewable energy, you’ve got to wonder whether the approach of being seen to play Santa, throwing about cash and picking winners is going to have a great long term impact. Why not auction off emission rights, upping the price of CO2 intensive activities and give us all a tax cut in return.

If we are to get emissions reductions, and to do it cost efficiently surely, surely it is better to set up a system where we put a price on emissions and trade both credits and the rights to emit. Perhaps it would have been better allocated turning marginal farms into forests, and build another coal plant? We’ll never know if we don’t have price signals set up.

A government who practices free market rhetoric but would rather tax and spend sprinkling money to pet projects. With a higher price on coal produced electricity we won’t need government grants to get these projects up. If they are worthwhile pursuing they will be cost effective on their own.


One Response to Government plays Enviro-Santa

  1. Sacha says:

    Steve, I tend to agree with you – and a “cap and trade” system for greenhouse gases might be the way to go, but I’m happy if the fed. govt. is doing *something* to help wean us onto solar and renewables, even if its not optimal.

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