The Australian Clean Energy legislative package, which put a price on carbon emissions and promotes renewable energy, has been passed by the House of Representatives.

The 19 Bills comprise the Clean Energy legislation and the Steel Transformation Plan Bill, which put a price on carbon emissions, promote investment in renewable and clean energy technologies, and support action to reduce carbon pollution on the land.

The legislation will now be introduced to the Senate, and aims to be passed through the upper house by the end of the year. According to media reports, there could be over US$13.2 billion on the table for renewable energy and other low-carbon investment if the legislation passes the Senate. Australia is currently one of the top 20 polluting countries in the world.

The challenge for Australia has always been to take clean energy inventions – such as those coming from the solar PV and Concentrating Solar Power (CSP)/Concentrating Solar Thermal (CST) sectors – to market, in a very large country, where most of the population lives in the southeast corner, and which has substantial reserves of coal.

More recently, the Federal and State Governments have helped to finance the uptake of PV both in the cities and in the remote outback. Together with Federal Government rebates, various State governments have set up feed in tariffs, but there is currently no commonality across the country.

Most schemes are based on exported electricity only, but one (the Australian Capital Territory), is based on gross production. Plenty of discussion is in progress following a Private Member’s Bill introduced into the Senate in May 2008. The Bill is still “alive” but has been referred to the Council of Australian Governments (COAG) following a Senate enquiry. The enquiry had over 170 submissions and received evidence from several groups and individuals. The majority of submissions were in favour of a national feed-in-tariff, based on gross generation.

The referral to COAG has been seen as a stumbling block, but there has been comment from the industry that “one size does not fit all” and that to copy the German system for example might not be workable. Compared to Germany, where a successful feed-in-tariff has been in operation for some years, Australia is a very diverse country without a comprehensive national grid and numerous small diesel and gas grids supplying small towns in remote locations. There are yet more remote communities and homesteads that will never have any grid access. There are many climates, from the tropical north to the temperate south.

However, change could be afoot. At the Federal level, the Rudd Government has just released a white paper which outlines the final design of Australia’s Carbon Pollution Reduction Scheme (including a Cap and Trade scheme), as well as decisions on other significant climate change programs. This White Paper sets out the Government’s policy in relation to two major elements of its mitigation strategy: a medium term target range for national emissions, and the final design of the Carbon Pollution Reduction Scheme. These elements are placed in the context of Australia’s efforts to help shape a global solution, and a range of supporting and complementary climate change initiatives.

As part of the white paper, The Government has confirmed its commitment to a long-term goal of reducing Australia’s greenhouse gas emissions to 60% below 2000 levels by 2050. And launching the white paper, Minister for Climate Change and Water, Senator Penny Wong also stressed that renewables would play their part in the solution: “Australians have made it clear that they understand the challenge of climate change and they want a government that will act…as one of the hottest and driest countries on earth, Australia’s environment and economy will be one of the hardest and fastest hit by climate change if we don’t act now. Through an unprecedented investment in energy efficiency, a four-fold expansion in renewable energy and the introduction of the Carbon Pollution Reduction Scheme, the Rudd Government is getting on with the job of tackling climate change. This is all about creating the jobs of the future. The CPRS is a whole of economy reform that will, for the first time, put a price on carbon and encourage investment in new, low pollution technologies.”

Larger-scale producers operating in the solar thermal (CST/CSP) or large-scale PV sectors, need investment certainty to establish projects and make them attractive to investors. The industry itself might prefer tax credits in the start-up phase, but in the recent past, substantial one off grants have been made to SolarSystems Pty Ltd in Victoria to build a 154MW PV dish concentrating system. SolarSystems has already established a number of dish concentrating systems in central Australia, and a new A$6.6 million, 26-dish solar power station to be built south of Alice Springs has also been announced.

Part of the Alice Solar City project, the Ilparpa Solar Power Station will be one of the largest solar power stations in Australia. The expected output of the solar farm will be about 1,800 megawatt hours (MWh) per year.

The company has been awarded A$3.3 million from the Australian Federal Government to construct the station, one of four iconic projects planned as part of the Alice Solar City project. Each of the 35 kW solar concentrator tracking dishes will be 14 metres high and have over 130 m2 of mirror reflector area. The power station began construction in February 2009 and is expected to start feeding power into the grid by early 2010.

Already under construction is the country’s largest roof mounted photovoltaic system, a 305 kW system on the roof of the Crowne Plaza Hotel in Alice Springs. In the solar thermal arena, there have further impressive projects that have been announced. The Worley Parsons group announced planning for an ambitious project to build up to 34 Concentrating Solar Thermal (CST) power stations, which could provide 10% of Australia’s energy needs by 2020. This A$34 billion project would meet half of the 20% renewable energy target that has been set by the Rudd Government for 2020, and could provide significantly more over time.

The company hopes that the first CST plant could be built in Australia by 2011. Each plant would be a utility sized installation of around 250MW, and would produce electricity at an estimated cost of A$0.15 per kWh, used in conjunction with a baseload source such as coal, gas, or geothermal – when that technology emerges.

"Through an unprecedented investment in energy efficiency, a four-fold expansion in renewable energy and the introduction of the Carbon Pollution Reduction Scheme, the Rudd Government is getting on with the job of tackling climate change…"
Senator Penny Wong

However, since an announcement in 2008, the company has been more low key about this venture. The famous "Big Dish" at the Australian National University (ANU) is soon to be joined by the next generation of Big Dish technology; the new Gen-2 dish, which will be over 25% larger than the original dish (total aperture close to 500m2), is a prototype of the commercial version of the dish technology.

Once the prototype is completed at the ANU, construction of a 6 dish demonstration plant will commence in Whyalla, South Australia and integrated with the ANU developed ammonia dissociation solar energy storage system as part of Canberra-based WizardPower Pty Ltd ‘s Advance Electricity Storage Technology project. The new dish is being designed and built on the ANU campus under contract to Wizard Power, with support from AusIndustry. Featuring 380 identical square profile mirror panels, the new dish is being totally re-engineered for mass production, and to trial innovative "factory in the field" concepts. The site works commenced in February 2008, and the completion is expected in early 2009.