The Australian - Stuart Kennedy
California governor Arnold Schwarzenegger was lighting a stand-alone solar plant in the US overnight following the switching on of a solar-powered augmentation plant by a NSW coal-fired power station.
Ausra develops solar power plants using relatively inexpensive, Australian-developed Fresnel lens technology that can stand alone or be grafted on to dirty coal-fired plants to reduce their carbon footprint.
Fresnel lense solar arrays are less efficient, but much cheaper than conventional lenses.
The power plants make electricity by focusing sunlight on water and generating steam that drives a turbine.
Mr Schwarzenegger this week turned on a 5-megawatt Ausra solar thermal plant near Bakersfield, California. The firm proposes to build a 177MW plant for US energy utility Pacific Gas & Electric and will bid for the upcoming solar energy plant contract in the ACT.
Ausra has also built a 1.5MW solar plant to augment the Macquarie Energy owned Liddell coal fired-power station in the NSW Hunter Valley that has just been commissioned.
Ausra Australia CEO Bob Matthews said the cost of the company's technology was on par with gas-powered electricity generation in the US, where tariff incentives made renewable energy power production attractive.
Mr Matthews has been lobbying government in Australia to introduce a feed-in tariff for renewable energy operators where they are given a guaranteed premium over the market rate for electricity.
"I have inquiries for projects equal to thousands of megawatts around Australia,' said Mr Matthews. "But other than the coal-fired projects and some off-grid applications I can't compete right now with black energy and there's no incentives in the system to level the playing field." While Ausra is based in the US and received first-round funding from US venture capitalists, its founder is expat solar energy pioneer David Mills. Part of the firm's $US60.6 million second-round funding package comes from local venture capitalist Starfish Ventures.
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