At least, that is the hope of green technology company, Vast Solar, which plans to build a pilot concenttrated solar power plant near Forbes.
Vast Solar’s Andrew Want and James Fisher share a long-term vision of Forbes and the Central West as the hub of a billion dollar renewable energy industry, powering homes and business in Australia’s eastern states.
Vast Solar has lodged plans to build a relatively small solar thermal plant at Jemalong, which they hope will encourage greater investment in the renewable energy industry.
The Jemalong project will use an array of 3500 moving mirrors to focus the sun’s rays onto five central towers which heat a steam driven turbine, generating 1.1 megawatts of electricity.
Vast Solar lodged their plans earlier this year and Forbes Shire Council says the proposal will most likely be considered at its September meeting.
Mr Want (Vast Solar CEO) and Mr Fisher (chief technical officer) are confident in solar thermal’s capabilities to deliver reliable and cost effective energy. They say it is only a matter of time before renewable energy surpasses coal-fired power as Australia’s primary energy source.
“The question is how long the change will take, not whether the change will happen,” Mr Want said.
The two men say a large solar thermal plant would employ just as many people as a typical mine, especially in construction jobs, and employees would have jobs for longer.
They point to studies of the world’s largest solar thermal plant, in Spain, which show 70 per cent of the plant’s economic returns stay in the region where the plant is located.
“A billion dollars of solar thermal development could create up to 100 full-time jobs,” Mr Fisher said.
“We have already worked with surveyors, with welders and metal fabricators, mechanical repairs and water experts,” Mr Want said.
“The Spanish and US plants have already shown this, that the regions really benefit,” he said.
Vast Solar believe Forbes and the Central West is one of Australia’s best places to create solar thermal and other renewable energy industries.
Solar rays are plentiful and the region already has easy access to energy infrastructure, or ‘the grid’.
“In terms of building large scale solar thermal plants, Forbes is the perfect place for it – it has the transmission and there are a lot of contractors there to build it. Potentially, Forbes could be a big solar hub, and that’s obviously going to create a lot of jobs as well,” Mr Fisher said.
Vast hope to build their solar thermal pilot plant by next year and increase its capacity to 30MW the year after.
However this will require significant investment, not just from federal and state governments, but from the private sector.
Mr Want hopes the Jemalong plant will allow Vast to create a mini industry in “technical tourism”, with visitors able to see first-hand why they should invest.
“We hope the plant will be a showcase for the way we will build larger projects, and not just in Australia but internationally,” he said.
The men say solar thermal technology will offer a real alternative to traditional, and unsustainable, methods of generating reliable power.
“Wind [power] is cheap, but intermittent,” Mr Want says.
Vast Solar hope the future federal government has the foresight to recognise the potential, and Australia is not left behind by other countries.
“Do we want to let other countries develop this stuff or do we want to do it ourselves?” Mr Want says.
James Fisher says solar thermal could lead an industrial shift, from mining resources to renewable energy.
“We can’t see any reason why renewable energy can’t become bigger than what mining is to the regions,” Mr Fisher said.