Australian Solar Getting Over Its Fear Of Clouds

As sunny as it is, Australia’s relatively puny solar capacity is surprising. Less PV than Belgium (2 gigawatts to 1.3 GW) at the end of 2011? That’s sad.

In fairness, the Aussies did more than double their solar capacity last year, and there’s a movement to bring a whole lot more online. CSIRO, the country’s big research agency, has laid out a report that it thinks can help overcome what many in Australia apparently see as solar’s big challenge – intermittency – and ease the flow of more sunshine-juice onto the grid.

australia solar

image via REN21

The agency said it worked for a year with the Australian Energy Market Operator and the Energy Networks Association to look into concerns about solar intermittency. The presumption in Australia has apparently been that the possibility that clouds might develop in its sunny skies could wreck havoc on electricity systems.

But CSIRO says fear not, there are solutions.

“There are no insurmountable barriers to increasing the use of large scale solar energy in the national grid,” the agency said. The country’s Solar Flagships program, its first foray into really big solar generation, got a boost recently when developers were selected to build  a 106-megawatt (MW) plant at Nyngan and a 53-MW plant at Broken Hill, both in New South Wales.

Those plants are expected to be operating in 2015. But the 10-MW Greenough River Solar Farm is schedule to fire up in the next few months, becoming the nation’s largest solar farm.

With that as a backdrop, CSIRO asserted, first, that “with knowledge and tools, such as solar forecasting and energy management, (it) can provide the information required to manage solar intermittency.”

Nevertheless, there’s no off-the-shelf solution available, the agency said: “It is not uniform and different sites, regions and countries require individual solutions. Local research and demonstration pilots are required. Australia has a unique electricity network and we need unique solutions.”

Pete Danko is a writer and editor based in Portland, Oregon. His work has appeared in Breaking Energy, National Geographic's Energy Blog, The New York Times, San Francisco Chronicle and elsewhere.

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