Solar power has bright future – CSIRO

THE myth that solar power is unreliable because clouds sometimes cover the sun has been dispelled by a world-first report produced by the CSIRO.

While clouds or rainy weather drastically reduce the amount of electricity produced by solar panels, intelligent management of the power grid means panels and mirrors should still supply 40 per cent of the nation’s energy in the future, the report said.

“People are worried about the reliability with little evidence, and that is limiting solar,” said Glenn Platt, a senior researcher in local energy systems at the CSIRO. “Solar intermittency is not an issue at the moment, but when it does become an issue there are solutions available to deal with it.”

The CSIRO’s solutions involve a combination of timely weather forecasts, storing renewable energy in batteries, and better directing energy to where it is needed to reduce overall demand. For prolonged rainy or overcast spells, turbines powered by gas or wind could fairly easily make up for the slump in solar electricity.

The report, Solar intermittency: Australia’s clean energy challenge, found that uncertainty about how to fit solar energy into existing power grids had led some utilities in Western Australia to block solar power because they feared it would complicate the power grid, and possibly cause blackouts.

“Australia is already facing the situation where, in some network areas, the installation of additional renewable generation has been stopped,” the report said.

“This is a conservative response to a lack of information about network problems intermittent renewable generation might cause and/or concerns about the mitigation measures required to address them, including cost and availability.

“This needs to be urgently addressed, through rigorous analysis of both network simulations and trial deployments in the context of Australian electricity transmission and distribution systems.”

Australia is vulnerable to intermittent power supplies, because the power grid is spread across a large, sparsely-populated area.

“There’s a real niche here for Australia to develop these systems of managing intermittency because of our situation,” Dr Platt said. “Europe and North America will have to look at doing the same thing down the track.”

The Clean Energy Council also released a study yesterday which attempted to address the concerns of people opposed to wind farms.

Consultants Sinclair Knight Merz found that a typical 50 megawatt wind farm creates up to 48 construction jobs, and provides about five permanent positions.

“More than $4 billion of investment has been generated by wind power in Australia since the technology started operating, and there is the potential to unlock another $17.8 billion locally based on currently proposed and approved wind farm projects,” said the council’s policy director, Russell Marsh.

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