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back to article Western Australia powers up 10 MW solar farm

Australia’s west is now home to what’s described as the country’s first utility-scale solar power plant. The 10 megawatt plant, supported with AUD$20 million of Western Australian government funding, will deliver power equivalent to 3,000 homes. However, its output is committed to powering the state’s Binningup water …

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Well Done Those People

This must be one of the few instances where it could be said that solar power is being used in an appropriate place for an appropriate purpose.

De-sal plants are horrendously power hungry so powering it with solar in a region that has little cloud coverage and rain makes a lot of sense.

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Well Done Those People - WTF??

"...supported with AUD$20 million of Western Australian government funding.... the organisations are reportedly considering expansion of the plant up to as much as 40 megawatts."

I'm not surprised given the WA Taxpayer is footing the bill for it.

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Re: Well Done Those People

And of course they need more power when: It's dry and hot for extended periods.

This is as good as running office air con from solar power - no need to put any regulators in place ;)

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Re: Well Done Those People

Just a question regarding how much energy would have gone into production of 150,000 panels like these as that has an obvious effect on when they become carbon neutral themselves and start to make a dent in the CO2 created by the production of power (if it were fossil fueled) used by the desal plant?

Also, what's better - these solar panel plants or the solar reflector variety, and wouldn't those concentrated solar power systems work better with increased heat as opposed to PV panels?

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Re: Well Done Those People

Don't know about "few places". Solar power is appropriate anywhere that has barren land and a climate that is sunny either most of the year, or for the parts of the year when the demand for power is highest.

That applies to pretty much any roof under which air-conditining is required on sunny days, especially if closer to the equator than the UK. It applies on a utility scale anywhere there is a desert within HVDC transmission range of a city. Most of Australia, SW USA, Spain, Arabia immediately spring to mind.

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Re: Well Done Those People

Figures I have found show <3 years of >20 years lifetime to pay back the power for the prouction

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Meh

Semi-congratulations

Great use of solar power, yes! And nice how they've evadedobviated the drawbacks of solar. Much easier to power a utility process that can be offline 14-16 hours a day. Much easier than dealing with sudden changes in demand from homes or industrial processing at those inconvenient dark times.

This is a beneficial and appropriate use of solar power. What would be inappropriate is saying this demonstrates that solar power can replace our other sources of power. Unless you plan on powering the TV by flushing the 'enhanced' toilet every 10 seconds.

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Re: Semi-congratulations

Until there's enough solar capacity to remove the daytime demand peak from the fossil-fuelled generation plant, the fact that solar needs daylight is not a problem. Many parts of the worlh have higher day-time demand than evening because of industrial processes. In hot parts of the world air-conditioning demand is highest when the sun is streaming down (especially in solar-friendly parts of the world with nearby deserts and therefore low humidity, where it gets a lot cooler quite fast after sun-down).

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"...it’s rain-free about 80 percent of the year..."

If it's a dry region, could dust be a problem? What level of cleaning do solar panels in this type of situation require to prevent noticeable loss of output?

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Re: "...it’s rain-free about 80 percent of the year..."

It's an issue that needs to be addressed. Cleaning solutions with minimised water consumption are part of the design of these plants. (Not sure if they've cracked water-less yet). Obviously the availability and price of water for cleaning in the middle of a desert may be an issue. In some places there may be plenty of low-quality groundwater unfit for drinking or irrigation, because of salinity or Arsenic content.

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Partial congratulations

Also not mentioned in the article is that the new solar array is approximately 550km away from the Binningup de-sal plant. The solar power generated near Geraldton will certainly be consumed by the WA state power grid but only indirectly by the de-sal plant.

The new solar farm site is also in close proximity to a large (90MW) wind power generation facility at Walkaway. It is likely that these wind and solar power facilities will complement each other.

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Re: Partial congratulations

By complement do you mean that on cloudless still nights when neither are producing anything they will sit and flatter each other across the desert? Or simply that they will be a true pair..of useless bits of taxpayer money.

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Nev

Couldn't they come up with...

... a process to purify water using the sun's heat directly, instead of spending a fortune in energy and resources making all those solar panels....?

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Re: Couldn't they come up with...

"... a process to purify water using the sun's heat directly, instead of spending a fortune in energy and resources making all those solar panels....?" Why, we already have a perfectly good system for that, its called "the weather". Sunlight heats the ocean, water evaporates and turns into clouds that drift over the land so that we can catch it while its falling. Any attempt to duplicate that is bound to be (if you forgive the expression) a drop in the ocean compared to current natural processes. The system is there, all we need to do is catch more of it! How about we equip each house with a rainwater tanks and filters so that they can catch falling water on the roof to pipe into the tanks for storage and use in drier easons?

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@Steve Brooks Re: Couldn't they come up with...

"The system is there, all we need to do is catch more of it!"

That's brilliant and so simple ! .. and luckily the rain always manages to fall exactly where it's needed so there's no problem there. Huzzah !

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Re: Couldn't they come up with...

It does make you wonder doesn't it. The more efficient way of using solar energy to generate electricity appears to be using solar concentration to make steam rather than solar panels. And if I'm not mistaken that's half the job done already in terms of desalination. And you get some sea salt to sell to hippies too!

It might miss out on some grants though - or it could just be the fuckwittery that is more than common in private/public c'ollaborations' these days - see rail/nhs...etc in this country.

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Go

Re: Couldn't they come up with...

Most desal plants are energy intensive, because you've either got flash evaporation, vacuum evaporation, or membrane methods that use high pressure to squeeze water through a membrane leaving the impurities behind. All are very energy intensive, and there's nothing yet that looks to to be a game changer. Relatively low pressure membranes do exist, but there's issues with clogging, durability, and the costs are high.

A more sensible approach is probably to use a thermal evaporator adjacent to a big waste heat source (eg a coal fired or nuclear power station). As an example, Ratcliffe coal plant in the UK generates 2 MWe, and "loses" 11 million tonnes of water through its cooling towers. Not really an issue in the area around Ratcliffe, but that evaporation could be condensed to very clean water in more parched areas of the globe. And that is enough water for around 200,000 people, with the only energy required being the condensation stage. There's the issue of where the water comes from for cooling in the first place, but if you've got an existing thermal plant somebody has had to sort that out already. Seawater cooling for power plants is usually not evaporative, but with suitable measures to rinse the heat exchangers there's no reason why it couldn't be,

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Re: Couldn't they come up with...

You'd have to compare the relative efficiency of (a) direct solar-powered water evaporation and (b) solar-PV electricity generation followed by electrically-powered reverse-osmosis. I expect that the thermodynamics have been studied and the solution that they are using is the better one.

As to why they aren't scavenging energy from fossil-fuel plants for water purification, I don't know. Come to that, when you burn Methane one of the major outputs is pure water (two H2O from every CH4), and it should be trivial to condense it rather than pump it up the chimney, if water is a valuable by-product rather than "just steam".

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Re: Couldn't they come up with...

Solar thermal is currently more expensive than photovoltaic, but it does have an advantage that heat can be stored in molten salt so it continues to generate through the night.

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Re: Couldn't they come up with...

... a seawater greenhouse.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Seawater_greenhouse

I don't entirely understand why this idea hasn't been more widely accepted. Charlie Paton demonstrated its viability two decades ago,

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WTF?

10 MW powers 3000 homes?

Australians have *amazingly* frugal home power needs.

On that basis hardly any home has air conditioning in it.

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Holmes

Re: 10 MW powers 3000 homes?

Not sure if there's sarcasm, or aspersions being cast on the data, so:

10MW solar@25% capacity factor gives 21.9 GWh per year, across 3000 houses that's 7,300 kWh per household per year, which is double the UK average consumption.

So on those figures many Aus homes do (as we expect) have aircon, and Australia retains its place at the top of the international energy use table amongst major OECD countries.

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Anonymous Coward

Re: 10 MW powers 3000 homes?

Yep, that's 20kWh per day of usage. Our Aussie home averages 12kWh/day most of the time and around 16-20 in the hot periods when the split systems go on dawn to dusk. We only have one combined fridge freezer and all our appliances are fairly new (last 5 years) so everything is quite efficient. The house is insulated, the hot water is gas. Compare that across the country where there are plenty of wooden and uninsulated homes requiring more cooling, older appliances, aircons etc, electric hot water, and simple things like having an extra fridge or freezer and it's easy to see where the power goes. It's also worth remembering that on average Aussie homes are bigger than those in the UK.

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Desalination.

Why don't they just slap a few dams in the rivers?

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Flame

Re: Desalination.

Rivers!

Rivers in these parts often consist of all the usual river-like features:

Gullys

Pebbles

Sand

Trees along the banks

But quite often no actual water

Hot, damn hot.

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Re: Desalination.

Sounds like Mars then. How do we know these gullies were made by water? Couldn't they have been made by treacly flows of hot air spouted by Australia's politicians?

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Anonymous Coward

Re: Desalination.

King Colin (WA Premier [Governor]) wanted to build a water canal from Perth to the far north.

Maybe he could suggest that crazy-ass scheme again (Guffaw...)

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Re: Desalination.

Back in the early 1970's I drove from Perth to Dampier up the largly dirt road at that time.

It is bleak beyond belief, even to an Aussie it looks like desert country, I was amazed to cross cattle grids and see fences but failed to understand what the cattle ate unless is was the absolute mass of red rocks and boulders you see. As for suitable rivers to dam, well as previously posted, they are river beds, except, in the rainy season there is an increadibly heavy pour of rain for a short period of time. Some bridges are 12-20 metres above the creek bed and they go under. It's an odd place, I just don't know if you could build a dam to sustain the huge influx of water that arrives in such a short time, and if you could, how can you distribute it, it really is miles away from bugger all. Our water in Dampier was piped over 40-60 miles overland before it arrived to us and was too hot to use in a shower. Mind you, if you wanted to desal, maybe that's the answer, miles of black poly pipe laying on the ground, pump sea water in one end and collect the steam at the other, run a slug down it once a day to remove the salt and sell it. That would at least compete with the major salt evaporation pans at Dampier. Have a look at them on Google Earth, if only there was a simple way to reverse the process. But it does use the sun efficiently.

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Re: Desalination.

You forget the flash floods when it does rain, usually somewhere "close by" ... ;)

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If you constructed a seawater greenhouse around a solar tower similar to EnviroMission's one it may be possible to generate all the energy needed to pump the water, produce crops and to make clouds from the moist air that goes out the top of the tower. Enough of them could change the local climate although hopefully not to the point that it was cloudy all the time which would stop them working.

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Anonymous Coward

10MW???

Great, now we just need about 29 more of those to replace a single coal-fired plant.

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