Solar energy technologies generate electricity using energy from the sun. There are two main types:
- solar thermal (concentrating solar) energy systems – concentrate the sun’s energy to produce heat, used to produce steam to drive a turbine and generate electricity
- solar photovoltaic (PV) energy systems – convert solar energy directly into electricity by producing an electric current when exposed to sunlight
Resources in Western Australia
Australia has the highest average solar radiation per square metre of any continent. Several areas of Western Australia are particularly prospective for solar development:
- Gascoyne and Pilbara in the North West – some of the best solar resources in the nation with increasing energy demand frommining and resource developments
- Mid West – good solar resources and increasing energy demand from mining developments. Parts of this region have access to the South West Interconnected System (SWIS), Western Australia’s main electricity network
- Wheatbelt – large areas of clear flat land to accommodate solar equipment, with much of the region being connected to the SWIS
Current use in Western Australia
There is a significant amount of smaller scale PV system generation capacity installed in the State’s main electricity network. Many of the isolated power systems in remote areas also use PV.
Stand-alone hybrid systems (PV with back-up) have been widely installed at large station homesteads, remote Aboriginal communities, small mining operations and for telecommunications applications.
In the Pilbara, Horizon Power has commissioned hybrid (PV–diesel) generation facilities in Nullagine and Marble Bar. These projects were funded through the Commonwealth Government’s Renewable Remote Power Generation Program, which is administered by the Public Utilities Office.
The Western Australian Government provided $20 million to Verve Energy to develop the 10 megawatt Greenough River Solar Farm in the Mid West. Construction completed in July 2012, making it one of Australia’s largest PV generation projects.
Future use in Western Australia
PV technology has improved over the past decade, driven by increased global demand for rooftop grid-connected systems and remote area power requirements. Efficiency has improved and system costs have decreased significantly.
With rising costs of electricity, many households have invested in roof-top PV systems to provide some or all of their power needs and there is growing interest from the commercial sector.
However, solar energy is an intermittent energy source as it is only available during the day-time and cannot guarantee supply at any given time. This poses challenges for integrating large amounts of solar-based generation into existing electricity networks without impacting on the reliable operation of the system. The introduction of ‘smarter’ technology may help to address some of these issues.
Solar thermal technologies can potentially be integrated with conventional power generation facilities and/or provide a reliable and constant power supply when coupled with storage technologies. They also tend to be much more efficient than PV.