Australia – Potential for concentrated solar energy to power wheatbelt

Assistant Professors Julian Clifton and Bryan Boruff of UWA’s School of Earth and Environment found that areas in the central and eastern Wheatbelt are ideal sites for Concentrated Solar Power (CSP).

CSP concentrates solar radiation which is then converted to steam to drive a turbine or engine for electricity generation. Unlike photovoltaic cells the heat may be stored to generate electricity outside of sunlight hours.

The research titled Assessing the potential for Concentrated Solar Power development in rural Australia was supported by the Wheatbelt Development Commission and has been published in the journal Energy Policy.

Assistant Professor Boruff said the results show there is an opportunity to consider small-scale electricity generation from renewable sources for local consumption given that the ability to supply more electricity to the region is subject to capacity constraints and the high cost of upgrades to current infrastructure.

"A reliable electricity supply is fundamental to attracting people and industry to rural areas and small scale parabolic dish forms of CSP can provide a local, renewable alternative to nonrenewable energy sources transmitted from outside the area."

"By contrast the large-scale iron ore mining operations in the east would be more suited to medium scale CSP and the excess electricity generated from these could help supply the residential energy needs of Kalgoorlie and/or other industries such as gold mining," Assistant Professor Boruff said.

The paper outlines the factors affecting CSP development in Australia while highlighting the potential for CSP in the Wheatbelt, reinforcing the need to conduct similar research in other areas where rural economic growth is being held back by (among other things) outdated electricity infrastructure.

The Wheatbelt Region comprises an area of 154 862 square kilometres, more than twice the size of Tasmania. The region is home to over 69,000 people, making it the third most populous region in the State.

The Wheatbelt has a diverse population, with over 15% having been born overseas, and around 5% being Indigenous. Over 10% of the population are aged between 15 and 24 years old, with 13% aged 65 and over. The median age is approximately 37 years. The population is widely dispersed with only around 16,000 people located in the main service centres of Northam, Narrogin, Merredin and Moora.

The environment of the Wheatbelt is as varied as the people. We have approximately 150km of pristine coastline, expanding from Guilderton to Jurien Bay. The Avon region close to Perth is known for it’s lush environment, thanks to its relatively high rainfall. The areas to the East are rich in minerals, including, gold, nickel and iron ore, while the remainder of the region is mostly agricultural.

The region has well-developed transport links, with most major highways and rail routes to Perth passing through. The region has 35% of the State’s roads and easy access to the Port of Fremantle and regional ports at Geraldton, Bunbury, Albany and Esperance. A range of private air charter services is available. Daily passenger rail services operate on the main east-west line and a variety of passenger road coach services exist.