November 16, 2007 (Gippsland Friends) – SOLAR thermal electricity generation soon to be used to power the northwestern Queensland town of Cloncurry is tipped to be the way of the future. And if it proves an engineering and financial success, the State Government will look at building green generators in other towns. Cloncurry’s solar thermal electricity station will annually save about 25,000 tonnes of carbon dioxide currently produced by burning diesel to generate electricity.
Lloyd Energy Storage and the SMEC Group will pay $24 million and the Government $7 million to set up the station that will make Cloncurry the first town in Australia to be totally solar powered. Work is expected to start by April next year, with power flowing the following summer. Subject to feasibility studies, the system is expected to be suitable for any remote town or towns on the fringe of grid power, such as Thargomindah, Quilpie, Cunnamulla, Normanton, Charleville, Julia Creek or Richmond.
Premier Anna Bligh said that given the long-term benefits, she planned to take a personal interest in the project, especially as Queensland was ideally suited to use more solar power. The University of Queensland of Technology’s Professor Gerard Ledwich said the technology was the best option available in terms of renewable energy. Solar photovoltaic cells were too expensive for large operations, wind was not a strong resource in the Outback and the cost of conventional power supplies was too high.
Professor Ledwich said the major advantages of solar thermal power was that it could store energy, making it able to operate 24 hours a day, and did not produce climate-changing greenhouse gases. Disadvantages were high setup costs and the fear that more than three days of heavily overcast weather could result in reduced supplies.
Ms Bligh said with Cloncurry having recorded Australia’s hottest day – 53C in the shade in 1889 – there was little prospect of this occurring. “But the costs of running on diesel are horrendous and CO2 impacts also come into play,” Professor Ledwich said. Under the plan, 60,000sq m of mirrors will reflect solar energy on to graphite blocks through which water flows. It is then used to drive a conventional steam turbine. The key to the system is that the graphite holds heat, allowing the station to deliver power at night and on overcast days. It is expected to deliver about 30 million kilowatt hours of electricity annually.