Australian support for renewables
by the CADDET Australian National Team

The Australian Commonwealth Government recently announced A$6 million (where A$ is the Australian dollar) in grants to commercialise renewable energy technologies. The Renewable Energy Commercialisation Program (RECP) targets innovative projects with strong commercial potential. The grants are part of a broader programme of measures, including A$45 million in competitive grants over the next five years, to develop Australia's renewable energy industry further.

Solar cell manufacture at Solarex, Australia.

Introduction

The National Greenhouse Strategy (NGS) is the main policy that will direct Australia's move to reduce greenhouse gas emissions in line with the Kyoto Protocol. Among other things, the strategy requires electricity retailers in Australia to source an additional 2% of the electricity they sell from renewable sources by 2010. The RECP is a key element of the NGS, and this article summarises some of the projects that will be supported.

 

Titania solar cells

The world's first titania solar cell manufacturing plant will be built in Queanbeyan, New South Wales, by Sustainable Technologies Australia. The pilot plant will be the first stage of a manufacturing facility to produce solar wall tiles and panels using dye-doped titania cells.

These cells, which were developed in Switzerland, are based on a sol-gel core technology and manufactured at temperatures of less than 300C, which allows thin-film electronic and optical devices to be produced at a potentially lower cost than other solar technologies.

Essentially, a titania cell can convert sunlight directly into DC-current in much the same way as a photovoltaic cell. The cell is made from two sheets of glass laminated together to enclose several transparent layers, including titania as the electronic semiconductor, a ruthenium dye as the light absorber, thin conductive layers of tin oxide, platinum and an electrolyte containing a redox couple which fills any spaces between the glass sheets.

Because of their transparency, titania cells could be used in a wide range of applications, including wall panels and windows in areas of low light-intensity. Their conversion efficiency, however, is inferior to that of silicon-based photovoltaic cells.

Tidal power

A 48 MWe tidal power station near Derby, Western Australia will potentially supply power to Derby, Broome and a lead and zinc mine at Pillara in the remote Kimberley Region. Power for most of the settlements in the area is currently provided by relatively expensive diesel engine/generator units. Apart from reducing pollutants, the tidal power option will provide long-term savings and ensure less reliance on imported diesel.

The plant will be built between two "arms" of a creek. To keep capital costs down, the turbine will be placed in a channel cut between a high basin in one arm of the creek, and a low basin in the other. The plant has been designed to provide continuous power, rather than maximise the amount of electricity at an ideal phase of the tide. The tidal range at Derby is about 10 m ­ one of the highest in Australia.

Waste briquettes

Landfill waste in Canberra will provide the material for two briquetting plants. One plant will provide clean-burning fuel for a cogeneration facility producing up to 300 kWe of energy for sale to customers in the Australian Capital Territory; the other will be used to produce a high-quality fuel for domestic uses, such as space heating and barbecues.

Wave energy

A$750,000 has been granted for a 300 kWe generator on the breakwater at Port Kembla, which will convert ocean wave energy into electricity. The technology for generating power from waves is yet to be firmly established commercially, but this project will provide a valuable boost to the future of wave energy.

The conversion device in this project is radically different from other wave generators in the world. Designed by Energetec, the unit uses a parabolic shield to focus waves into the bottom of the air chamber. The shield increases the amplitude of the waves at the focal point by about a factor of three. The focused wave motion pushes oscillating air past a turbine.

An oscillating motion of air often causes problems for wave generators, but this turbine has been designed to make maximum use of the air flow. The turbine spins in one direction despite the oscillating flow of air, and the blades are adjusted by mechanical actuators linked to microprocessor controls and pressure sensors in the air flow.

Biomass from mallee

An integrated wood-processing plant at Narrogin, Western Australia, will produce electricity and eucalyptus oil from locally grown biomass. Using a process developed by the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation, the plant will convert wood into activated carbon and then to 1 MW of electricity for the grid.

The processing plant will use mallee as the biomass fuel. A fast-growing, hardy eucalypt, mallee has many advantages as a biomass crop: the oil derived from the leaves can be used in pharmaceutical products, and it has another prospective market as an industrial solvent. With its deep root systems and reasonable salt tolerance, mallee has been used successfully to rehabilitate land degraded by waterlogging, salinity and soil erosion ­ problems which have become widespread in some parts of Australia.

Vanadium redox boxes

Pinnacle VRB has received a grant of A$700,000 for its project to deliver a technically and commercially competitive alternative to the currently dominant lead acid battery. The project will repackage existing vanadium redox battery technology into an integrated energy storage system to meet the specific needs of both remote area power supplies and industrial photovoltaics markets.

The vanadium redox battery (VRB) draws its power from the potential difference between different oxidation states of the metal vanadium dissolved in sulphuric acid. The two vanadium solutions flow past either side of a proton-exchange membrane, which allows electrons to flow in one direction and protons to flow in the other as the solutions seek equilibrium.

The VRB shows considerable benefits over other battery technologies, particularly in terms of its life-cycle environmental impact, its very long useful life and its low cost, especially when used as transport fuel.

Solar cell production

A grant of A$482,000 was made to the manufacturing company Solarex to improve its multicrystalline photovoltaic (PV) cell fabrication facility with the help of ACSES, the Centre for Sustainable Energy Systems at the Australian National University. Improvements to laboratory processing in commercial cell production are designed to increase cell efficiency to 17% from a present typical efficiency of 12.5%. Ultimately, this will lead to a 36% increase in capacity from the plant without increasing production or silicon consumption. As a result of this work, the manufactured cost/W for PV will be reduced by 27%.

Solar demonstration project

A new visitors' centre at the Tidbinbilla nature reserve, near Canberra, will incorporate renewable energy technologies into its design, and set new standards for energy efficiency in a public building. The building will use solar panels to generate hot water that will be piped throughout the building to provide space heating.

The project will achieve significant reductions in energy use and greenhouse gas emissions; in addition, the on-going monitoring of building performance will provide the building industry with improved data on both the initial and the whole-life costs of the project.

For more information on these projects and other aspects of the National Greenhouse Strategy, please see the Australian Greenhouse Office web site at www.greenhouse.gov.au

The CADDET Renewable Energy Newsletter is a quarterly magazine published by the CADDET Centre for Renewable Energy at ETSU, UK.

The articles published in the Newsletter reflect the opinions of the authors. They do not necessarily reflect the official view of CADDET.

Enquiries concerning the Newsletter should be addressed to Pauline Toole, Editor, CADDET Centre for Renewable Energy, ETSU, Harwell, Oxfordshire OX11 0RA, United Kingdom. Tel: +44 1235 432968, Fax: +44 1235 433595.