SUN REAL Renewable Energy Systems

ATRAA/SEIA '96 report

Richard (Morton, partner in Sun Real) recently attended the combined annual meeting of Solar Energy Industries Australia and the Alternative Technology Retailers Association, held in Sydney at the University of NSW.

Whilst no major new products or breakthroughs were heralded, the meeting heard some exciting news from Integral Environmental Energy and Energy Australia, two of the government owned power utilities in NSW. There was also some discussion on the recent demise of the Energy Research & Development Corporation, one of the only funding bodies for research into renewable energy in Australia.

Both utilities announced that they will now buy excess renewable energy from anyone in Australia who is connected to the grid. This removes a major impediment from plans to have 'grid interactive' systems in Victoria: the need for someone to buy your excess energy. The Victorian utilities (with the notable exception of Citipower) have been less than enthusiastic about grid interactive systems, and certainly there have been no offers to pay full retail price for renewables. This method, known as 'net billing', has a number of advantages to the consumer, and Integral are offering it to anyone in the country right now.

Energy Australia are in the process of installing a Vestas V44 600kW wind turbine at Kooragang, in Newcastle. The machine will be on a 50 metre tower and is a 3 blade design with a swept diameter of 44 metres.

That the turbine is imported from Denmark says much about the differing attitudes of national governments to renewable energy. The Danes generate substantial export income from selling their wind turbines and other RE technologies throughout the world and have received support from their government to develop these markets.

This contrasts dramatically with the Australian Government's recent decision to de-fund the Energy Research & Development Corporation, which had been providing small but significant R&D grants to the RE industry.

According to Dr Andrew Blakers, a researcher with the ANU, Australia was until recently spending about 15 cents per citizen on research into renewable resources, as compared to $1 per person in Japan & the United States. This figure is now around 4 cents and is about thirty times less than what the coal industry here receives.

The federal government pushes ahead with more uranium mining & export plans while internationally acclaimed researchers are inadequately funded to continue research that has already resulted in significant export income for Australia, meaningful jobs for Australians, and technologies that offer the only viable alternative to fossil fuel energy production.

Despite all this, BP Solar Australia recently signed a contract to provide almost $40 million worth of energy services to one million people from 400 remote villages in the Phillipines. The project is funded in part by a grant from AusAID, and is expected to create around 45 new jobs directly.