Australian Mining Town Going Green

Broken Hill, once known as Australia’s “Silver City” due to world largest silver mineral deposits, is becoming famous for a different resource. This isolated desert town, 700 miles west of Sydney, is now solar farm oasis on 140 hectares, or on an area almost 200 times larger than London’s Wembley Stadium. With an output of 53 MW, it can power 17,000 average NSW homes. This solar farm and its sister plant at Nyngan are the largest solar power station in the southern hemisphere. They are developed to supply electricity for 30 years, which is usual lifespan of solar panels according to the U.S. Department of Energy.

The total capacity of 155 MW has been installed, 102 MW at Nyngan and 53 MW at Broken Hill. The total cost for the two projects was approximately A$440 million. ARENA and NSW Government provided funding of A$166.7 million and A$64.9 million respectively. NSW environment minister Mark Speakman expects that technology will change rapidly, and that in the next five years or so these projects will not need government to kickstart them.

As a continent with the highest rate of solar radiation per square meter, Australia leads in number of rooftop solar panels. Conversely, this country of sun lags behind 19 countries in production of power at solar plants. According to the Australian Clean Energy Council, solar power made up about 2 percent of Australia’s electricity in 2014. This rate is around two times higher (4%) for wind power, three times higher (6%) for hydro power, and more than forty times higher (87%) for electricity generated by fossil fuel burning.

According to the Netherlands Environmental Assessment Agency, carbon dioxide emission per person in 2014 in Australia was 17.3 tonnes, which made this country the highest polluter on the list.

The current state goal for decreasing carbon emissions for 2030 will not change this situation significantly since Australia would remain the country with the highest per-capita polluter.

2015 California Green Innovation Index report says that some of the world’s largest economies were increasing their GDPs while lowering carbon emissions due to clean tech venture capital investments. Therefore, besides obligation to lower carbon footprint, especially as one of the world’s wealthiest countries, Australia could potentially improve its economy with more climate-friendly strategy.

There is need for over 3,000MW of new renewable energy capacity in 2016 to meet national target. The successful performance of the Broken Hill and Nyngan projects will give banks and contractors more confidence in working with large solar developments in the future.

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