'Tip 7' for Direct Action: Australia's own solar city

Like its Nevada counterpart, Dubbo has the potential to become a solar thermal superpower. After all, the regional city is already well on the way to clean energy utopia.

*This is the seventh part in a series of 'Tips for Direct Action'. Click here for parts onetwothreefourfive and six.

One in three of the 42,000 inhabitants of Dubbo lives under a solar rooftop. One. In. Three.

And this could easily rise to 100 per cent in the next three years if Greg Hunt and Tony Abbott get a wriggle-on matching their Direct Action rhetoric with, well, action.

With 100 per cent solar photovoltaic penetration on rooftops, Dubbo's households could meet their own needs and much of the town's industry's needs for daytime electricity. (NB: Assuming good Direct Action policy outcomes enable the next 66 per cent of households install decent sized 5000,10000kW inverters and oversize them with twice as many panels to create a flatter production curve).

And when the sun don't shine?

We're dead – but fortunately the sun is pretty reliable and rises every morning like clockwork. And in regions like Dubbo there are mostly blue skies all year round, allowing for the construction and efficient operation of a baseload or intermediate constant output solar plant.

So solar will win the day in Dubbo but, again, what about when the sun goes down? Step in 'solar thermal with storage' and in particular 'molten salt power towers'. 

In Tonopah, Nevada, Solar Reserve is building the Crescent Dunes 110MWe solar thermal power plant and it should be online, dispatching to the Nevanda electricity grid, by year's end. This constant production intermediate plant is designed to run from noon to midnight almost all of the year, matching the air-conditioning demand in the Nevada desert. 

Tonopah is a pretty hot and a very sunny place, just like Dubbo. The difference is that Dubbo has a lot of solar photovoltaic, so isn't far off having the daytime sorted. And any shortfall that the domestic households haven't met can be achieved through commercial installations in the very near term. That leads to this Direct Action opportunity for evening and night.

The Crescent Dunes facility can be dubbed Dubbo Dunes and copied from the Northern Hemisphere to be built right here in on the southern continent with Direct Action money. Greg Hunt could allocate about $300-$350 million of his $3.2 billion (or was that $2.8 billion? - I'm getting confused with all the flip-flopping) or, even better, work with the Clean Energy Finance Corporation which is legally bound to spending $2 billion this year and $2 billion after June 30 next year (assuming the Senate doesn't let the Abbott wrecking ball go through it before then) on clean energy ventures. Now that fund is super conservative and probably wouldn't go for nation-building solar thermal plants, instead sticking to 'done yesterday'/'do tomorrow' wind and small solar plants. But with a nod from Hunt and a nod from Abbott I'm sure the CEFC board would be able to find a way to back a few exemplar solar thermal plants around the nation to get the renewable revolution ball rolling.

Leighton Holdings, John Holland, Leighton Contractors, Thies ... they're all part of the same group and they're all owned by ACS, the Spanish construction company that has built more solar thermal plants than anyone else. And, in fact, they built the competing Gemasolar 20MWe baseload plant that has been consistently performing above its rated output and now they are building Crescent Dunes in Tonopah, as well.

So it's pretty easy. If you're in Hunt's or Ian Macfarlane's shoes you ring up Australia's (and Asia's) biggest construction company and you ask them if they can get the guys in the know about Molten Salt Power Towers to a meeting because you want to get one built ASAP! No fiddle farting, no flip floppin', no hesitation – just good old Aussie roll-up the sleeves and get on with the job Direct Action.

So I've presented a pretty straight forward Direct Action policy that Hunt can announce today and implement straight away. The experience in Spain, the Middle East and the US is that once you've built one or two solar thermal plants of a type the next one will only take a year or two after breaking ground. We could start with a plant just the same as Tonopah, Nevada – it's a very conservative approach which is something that you'd expect from a very conservative government. Then, when they've tasted success or when they're replaced by a unified Labor, the subsequent plant scale-up towards 200MWe baseload operation can go full steam ahead.

So come on, Hunt, let's get direct! Let's do solar thermal in a big way, quit the window dressing and get down to business.

Matthew Wright is the executive director of Zero Emissions Australia.

Note from the author: As we all know, the Liberals have been heavy on campaign rhetoric, which is all very well when you are in opposition. But being absent and underweight in deliverable policy doesn't fly when you're in government. When it comes to climate rhetoric Abbott and his protégé Hunt are in their element.  Every time Hunt fronts a camera he is mouthing direct action, but now he has to front the house with a deliverable. I know he is short, so I'm here to help in turning direct action rhetoric into deliverable action. These tips aim to provide meaningful and measurable infrastructure on the ground that will make a difference and beat Labor and the Greens at their own game.

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