Academics and environmentalists are mustering support for a community-scale solar project in the Kimberley expected to boost a drive to power Australia with renewable energy within 10 years.
During a Broome presentation, Beyond Zero Emissions general manager Pablo Brait outlined its Zero Carbon Australia plan.
It involves the establishment of large solar thermal and wind power generation projects around Australia, with 25 per cent of the cost required to upgrade the power grid that connects WA to the east coast.
Collaborators Beyond Zero and University of Melbourne’s Melbourne energy institute said the 18-month-old plan, costed at $370 billion, was endorsed by a range of eminent scientists and industry commentators.
Under it, solar thermal plants would copy technology deployed in Spain, which uses molten salt as a battery for energy storage.
About 2 per cent of the power would be supplied by existing hydro-electric and new biomass energy generators.
Though its small population and cost of connecting to a national grid meant Broome was not ideal for large-scale renewable energy developments, Mr Brait said community-scale solar projects would provide Broome and the Kimberley with expanded access to renewable energy.
“Broome and the Kimberley must be treated as separate grids that can stand alone,” he said.
Regional Cleantech Solutions director Peter Hansford agreed the Kimberley had yet to capitalise on its opportunities for big solar power generation.
“A community-owned project, similar to Victoria’s community owned Hepburn wind project, ensures that the financial benefits are captured by local shareholders,” he said.
“There is an opportunity to supplement the existing grid with a community-scale solar project –moving away from individuals purchasing PV and putting it on their roof at a cost of up to $15,000 – that not everyone can afford and certainly people that are renting have no incentive to do that.
“Set up a community-scale solar project where you can buy shares for potentially as little as $100, but people can buy $100 worth of shares or $500 worth.”
Mr Hansford said Horizon Power’s recent reduced rebate announcement presented a challenge for any solar project for the Kimberley.
“The cost of generation is much higher, but even in Broome the average cost of energy generation here is about 36 cents a kilowatt hour – Horizon are only offering 10 cents,” Mr Hansford said.
His plan would not be short term, but Broome was forecast to grow, in population.
“We have the potential for a huge solar farm and export to somewhere like Indonesia,” he said.
Another Beyond Zero forum will be held on Monday.
Contact Peter Hansford on 0417 050 939 for more information.