Wednesday, July 31, 2013

Largest solar project in the southern hemisphere gets go-ahead

Australian government says 'flagship' 155MW development in New South Wales will boost investor confidence in large-scale solar

Work on the largest solar project in the southern hemisphere is to get under way, after the Australian Renewable Energy Agency (ARENA) reached financial close with developers AGL Energy for the A$450m (£267m) development.

The 155MW project is spread across two sites in Western New South Wales - a 102MW solar plant at Nyngan and a 53MW solar plant at Broken Hill - and will cover a combined area four times the size of Sydney's central business district.

ARENA will provide $166.7m (£99.0m) and the NSW Government $64.9m (£38.5m) with construction expected to start at Nyngan in January 2014 and at Broken Hill in July.

The project is scheduled to complete in 2015, delivering enough power for up to 50,000 homes, after which First Solar will operate and maintain the projects for five years.

Michael Fraser, AGL managing director, said: "Solar PV in Australia has come a long way from being a small-scale industry in a relatively short time frame. The Nyngan and Broken Hill solar plants will be the nation's largest solar projects with the Nyngan plant also being the largest in the southern hemisphere."

The decision by Australia's new prime minister, Kevin Rudd, to drop a fixed A$25 (£15) carbon tax and bring in a floating price mechanism earlier than planned had caused concerns the move to a lower carbon price could undermine green energy investment.

However, Federal Minister for Climate Change Mark Butler said the "flagship" project would help boost investor confidence in large utility-scale solar, adding that it formed part of the government's ongoing green energy push.

He claimed that since 2007, Australia's wind capacity has trebled while the Labor government has supported the installation of more than a million solar panels, helping renewable energy generation rise 25 per cent.

"Australia has the highest average solar radiation per square metre of any continent in the world and we should take advantage of that natural asset," Butler said. "This project is 15 times larger than any other solar power station in Australia and represents a big step forward towards making solar a bigger part of Australia's energy mix.

"The Rudd government is committed to transitioning Australia to a clean energy future and this combined 155MW solar project helps make renewable energy cost competitive for more Australians."

In related news, a report by the International Renewable Energy Agency (IRENA) has found that renewables investment in the Middle East and North Africa rose 40 per cent last year to $2.9bn.

The report also predicts spending could rise to around $13bn a year by the second half of the decade, driven in large part by solar investment.

For example, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates (UAE), two of the world's largest oil producers, are currently working on plans to install 1GW of solar capacity.

The move, in response to growing energy demands and a desire to maximise oil export revenues, is expected to require financing of more than $1.5bn by the end of the year.

Syndicated from Business Green

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