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Environment Centre NT - protecting nature, living sustainably, creating climate for a change

Renewable Energy

The world needs to move quickly to cut carbon pollution levels to reduce the impacts of climate change.

Replacing fossil fuels with renewable energy for the production of electricity is fundamental to this change.

The Territory has world class solar energy resources, but less than 1% of the Territory’s energy comes from renewable energy.

The rest comes from fossil fuels such as gas, diesel and bunker fuel.

The Territory also has potentially major sources of geothermal and tidal power, all of which also remain untapped.

While the Territory has the largest existing solar power plant in Australia, namely the 1 Megawatt Uterne plant in Alice Springs, this is tiny compared to the utility scale solar power plants already operating or being developed in nations that receive less sunlight than does the Territory.

There are various types of large scale solar power plants that could be built in the Territory. Solar photovoltaic (PV) plants directly convert sunlight to electrical energy, and are considered to be quite mature technology.

Ever heard the myth that solar power can’t produce baseload power? This is an untruth, often spread by the fossil fuel industry and their supporters, and ignores the reality that solar power is rapidly emerging as a producer of baseload power that is increasingly cost competitive with gas fired power.

For example, the 20 MW Gemasolar power plant near Seville, Spain, started generating power using a solar power tower and molten salt storage in May 2011, and will provide baseload power 24/7 for many months of each year.

Other large solar power plants have been producing renewable energy in thesouthwestern USA and Spain for many years, or are in planning and construction phases, including some with power generation capacities as large, or larger, than the gas turbines at the Channel Island power plant on Darwin Harbour.

We hope to work with Beyond Zero Emissions, which produced its inspiring Zero Carbon Australia Stationary Energy Plan, to develop a renewable energy transformation plan for the Territory that outlines options for rapidly moving away from fosisl fuels to solar power as our primary energy source.

Here in the Territory there is expertise in constructing and operating renewable energy power plants in remote and inhospitable areas, such as energy utilityPower and Water Corporation that has considerable experience in remote solar power, Powercorp which has pioneered the use of fly wheels for integrating renewable energy into small grids, CAT Projects and its Bushlight project.

Through its Safe Climate campaign, the Environment Centre NT is working to change thinking and practice regarding solar power in the Territory.

We are working through advocacy, through our COOLmob Home Sustainability Program, and through the Territory Government’s Green Energy Taskforce to support and advance solar power.

We seek a future where renewable energy supplies displace dirty gas as the dominant energy source for the Darwin-to-Katherine electricity grid.

Not only should the Territory be committing to achieving the national 20% Renewable Energy Target by 2020 using Territory-based energy sources, we should be actively pursuing an energy mix that rapidly moves to replace fossil fuels with renewable.

Opportunities exist for dramatically increasing the generation of renewable energy in the Territory, including:

  • Converting the 60+ remote communities from diesel-powered to solar-powered, which will save Indigenous communities the costs of increasingly diesel prices due to peak oil and a future carbon price;
  • Providing the right regulatory framework and incentives for energy companies to build solar power plants on the Darwin-to-Katherine grid;
  • Reviewing the Utilities Commissioner’s remit to drive greater competition amongst energy retailers and support investment in renewable energy;
  • Requiring large mines and other heavy industry to invest in solar power plants, particularly those that use very dirty fuels for energy;
  • Supporting solar leasing where buildings with large roof spaces rent them to companies to install large arrays of solar photovoltaic panels and sell the power to commercial users or Power and Water Corporation; and,
  • Investigating the feasibility, costs and demand for exporting renewable energy, such as from a network of large scale solar power plants in the Top End, from the Territory to Asia through a high voltage direct current subsea cable (the Australia-Asia Electricity Link). Such an approach would be a game-changer for the Territory by enabling the Territory to transition from its economic dependence on exporting fossil fuels and uranium – products with significant risks and long lived dangerous legacies – to exporting inexhaustible solar power.