Sustainable Infrastructure Plus Solar Projects

Sustainable Infrastructure Plus Solar Projects

The Australian Green
Infrastructure Council’s (AGIC) national conference 2011 on 7 October in
Melbourne, with the theme “Our Brave New World”, will showcase the Australian
National Sustainability Rating scheme created to drive sustainable outcomes,
while First Solar, the market leader in thin-film solar panels, says many more
such projects will be needed to make Australia a major player in the global
solar energy industry.

Giles Parkinson in Climate
Sectator (30 September 2011):

First Solar, the world’s largest solar
company, says Australia may only have a brief window of opportunity if it wants
to position itself as a major player in the global solar energy industry.

The US company is about to start
construction on Australia’s first utility-scale solar PV project near Geraldton
in Western Australia, a 10MW facility being built with GE and Verve Energy. But
Jack Curtis, the head of Australian and Asia Pacific operations for First
Solar, the market leader in thin-film solar panels, says many more such
projects will be needed to help bring down operating, engineering and financing

The key to this, he says, will be
institutions such as proposed the Clean Energy Finance Corporation and a stable
policy environment that will allow projects to be deployed, rather than just
planned. If Australia does not get this right in the next couple of years, then
it will likely lose out.

“I would say that this is the
last chance for Australian solar,” Curtis said in an interview with Climate
Spectator. “The industry has been through this cycle a couple of time in the
last few decades. It’s at the point where it has rebuilt that credibility. We
have spent 3-4 years in this country educating utilities on benefit of solar–
but if turns out that they get on board, and the rug gets pulled – I don’t
think they will have appetite to go through that again.”

Curtis’ comments are a common
refrain in the solar industry. Although a handful of large scale solar projects
are going ahead thanks to government funding, including First Solar’s Greeenough
Project and the two Solar Flagships projects, many more could, and should, be
developed if the right incentives are there. They hope that the CEFC will
provide the solutions, and the certainty. (First Solar made two short-listed
applications for the flagships program, in partnership with AGL Energy ad

Curtis says that while the core
technology costs are falling rapidly, the key to making solar cost competitive
will lie in the cost of engineering, construction, financing and integration. And
these are all local issues. “Australia can’t wait 5 years for it to happen in
Germany, France or the US and expect to transplant that five years from now,”
he says.

“If Australia doesn’t start now
it will be 5 years behind the curve 5 years from now, and at a huge
disadvantage trying to catch up with those markets that have gotten to the
point where subsides not required.”

The irony is that Australia
should be the first market to get there, considering its solar resources,
infrastructure and technical know-how. Indeed, Curtis says that WA could be the
first market in the world to reach wholesale grid parity – that is, it’s
ability to compete with fossil fuels without the need for subsidies. He says it
could happen within a few years, but again, the key will be sufficient
deployment where the economies of scale and reduction in financing and other

The reason that WA could get to
parity first are its higher wholesale energy costs – thanks to its reliance on
gas and its exposure to the export market – excellent solar resource (about the
best in the world), and the appetite of off-takers prepared to pay a premium of
around 2-3c/kWh for solar over wind given the transmission costs and the grid
impacts of the latter.

Curtis estimates the cost of thin
film PV is currently around 16c-18c/kWh in the US, where costs have been
reduced somewhat because of deployment. This compares to Australia – where no
plants of scale have yet been constructed – of around 20c-22c/kWh in the
eastern states and 18c-20c/kWh in WA (thanks to its better sun).

“Our view is that 10 -12 c/kWh by
2015 is an aggressive but realistic goal for the Australian solar industry and
where we need to be in order to drive a greater adoption beyond government
subsidized programs,” he says. “However, sustainable and resilient
government programs are critical to bridge that gap over the next 5 years.

“While this range is not directly
on par from a cost to produce perspective with gas (or coal obviously), we
believe that with external values such as RECs, carbon, peak coincidence etc.
increasingly priced in and as the market continues to recognize the true value
of solar over and above the true cost, that range will enable a dramatic shift
for the industry.”

Curtis says the manufacturing
cost for First Solar modules is down to around $0.75/watt, which he says are
the lowest in the industry, and the company is targeting a range of
$0.52-0.63/W by 2014. The total system price, which includes modules,
inverters, steel, constrution, land acquisitions, permitting and grid
inegration, and development, is currently in the range of $2.50-$3.00/w,
depending on the region and market specific conditions, but needs to come down
to  $1.75-2.00/W to reach the 10-12 c/kWh

“The greatest swinger,” Curtis
says, “is the ability to access cheaper equity and debt.” This will
largely depend on proving the viability of the technology, and de-risking it
from a financing point of view. He says reducing the cost of funding by 20 per
cent would have a greater overall impact than reducing the capex costs by a
similar amount. He says the current thinking in the US is that solar PV could
reasonably provide 20 per cent of capacity into a regional grid, although these
estimates could evolve.

First Solar is hoping that its
10MW plant in Greenough, which will be up and running by the middle of 2012,
will have a similarly galvanizing impact than the company’s first 10MW plant in
the US, which was located not far from Las Vegas. He says Australia is
following the cycle of the US market – only around three years behind – but it
should be able to learn from that country’s mistakes, particularly about
project selection – an in issue that has come to the fore in recent weeks
following the failure of Solyndra.

Curtis also says remote power – where
solar can compete with diesel – is also a major opportunity and the company
hopes to use Australia as a test bed for the sort of products it could take to
Asia and Africa. The key to those opportunities, however, lie in the ability to
intergrate. “The relative need for remote solar in Australia won’t be as much
as in India and china, but it can provide a huge platform of opportunity.”


AGIC statement:

The Australian Green
Infrastructure Council’s (AGIC) national conference 2011 – 7 October in

Our Brave New World – where
metrics drive sustainability – will showcase the Australian National
Sustainability Rating scheme created to drive sustainable outcomes, provide
independent verification of performance and contribute to risk reduction in
infrastructure delivery and operation.

The results of the 2011 rating
tool pilot trials will be reviewed at the conference, together with in-depth
presentations on the rating tool themes and categories by the actual authors. The
tool will be launched to the industry in early 2012.

This is the premier event of the
year for anyone concerned with sustainability in infrastructure design,
construction and operation and wants to understand the metrics of the tool
(qualitative and quantitative) that will drive innovation, reduce risk and
independently verify results.

Event facts

The AGIC 2011 event will attract
representatives across different infrastructure sectors from designers,
constructors and operators to government representatives, lawyer and executives
responsible for making decisions on infrastructure projects.

The Conference will stimulate
discussion that impacts significantly on future infrastructure sustainability.

A line-up of top level speakers
from government, business and industry will present an in-depth analysis of
sustainability initiatives and discuss the AGIC Sustainability Rating tool. You
will hear first hand from the various subject matter experts who actually
developed the rating tool criteria.

The event provides excellent
networking opportunities with key players and valuable insights into the rating
tool categories and metrics.

Key people:

Professor David Hood is a Chartered Professional Engineer,
registered on NPER to practice in civil and environmental engineering. David
has over thirty five years experience in business, engineering, education,
project management, and senior executive positions in both the public and
private sectors. David is an Adjunct Professor in the Faculty of the Built
Environment and Engineering at Queensland University of Technology, Past
Chairman of the Australian College of Environmental Engineers, Chairman of the
Australian Green Infrastructure Council (AGIC), and is Past Deputy President of
the Australian Sustainable Built Environment Council (ASBEC). David is also an
accredited presenter on Al Gore’s Climate Project, and lectures widely on
climate change and sustainability where his passion enthuses others to make a
difference and reduce the damage we are inflicting on the earth’s systems.
David was elected as a Fellow of the International Society of Engineering Asset
Managers in 2010. He was elected Engineers Australia’s Deputy National
President in November 2010, and will become the 2012 National President in
November 2011.

Professor Kate Auty, Commissioner for Environmental Sustainability,
Victoria, was appointed in 2009. In her role Professor Auty seeks to enhance
knowledge and understanding of the social, economic and environmental aspects
of an ecological sustainable future for Victoria. The Commissioner oversees the
production of strategic audits on Environmental Management Systems and a State
of the Environment report to be completed by December 2013. In 2008, Professor
Auty was appointed a Charles Joseph LaTrobe Fellow with the Centre for
Sustainable Regional Communities at LaTrobe University. In 2008 and 2009, she
was the Chair of the Victorian Ministerial Reference Council on Climate Change
Adaptation and also a member of the Premier’s Reference Committee on Climate
Change. The Commissioner is currently an Adjunct Professor in the LaTrobe
Institute for Social and Environmental Sustainability Centre within the Office
of the Pro Vice-Chancellor (Sustainability) at La Trobe University. Professor
Auty holds tertiary qualifications in environmental science, law and history
from University of Melbourne (Arts (Hons)/Law), Monash University (Masters in
Environmental Science), and La Trobe University (PhD in Law and Legal Studies).
She holds a Diploma of International Environmental Law from UNITAR. Her
extensive career encompasses agriculture and academia, as a solicitor in her
own law firm and as a barrister. Professor Auty has held appointments as the
senior regional magistrate for the nine magistrates’ courts in north east
Victoria and the nine courts in Western Australia’s goldfields and western
desert, extending as far north as Kiwikurra and as far south as Esperance.

Dr Martin Blake has extensive expertise in business management,
organisational change, corporate social responsibility and sustainability. For
seven years to October 2010, he led the Social Responsibility and
Sustainability teams at Royal Mail, the largest single employer in the UK, as
well as designing and deploying an international award-winning Carbon
Management Programme to combat climate change. During those seven years Royal
Mail won over 75 National and International awards for CSR. Prior to joining
Royal Mail Dr Blake spent more than 20 years in the Middle East working for an
American Healthcare provider and later the world’s largest oil company, Saudi
Aramco. He holds an MBA in Organisational Analysis and Strategic Management and
his Doctorate in Business (DBA) focused on Organisational Change. Dr Blake now
divides his professional life between Australia, Asia and Europe. He is an
Adjunct Professor of Sustainable Business Development at both Griffith
University and the University of Southern Queensland. He is also a
non-executive director for Ecologic (green transport and logistics) in USA;
Sabien Technology Group, Industry Re Ltd and Amida Recruiting in UK; Executive
Director of The GreenAsia Group and Executive Chairman of Carbon Zero Solutions
(Sustainability and Carbon Management Consultancy) in UK and Asia-Pacific and a
member of The Strategic Advisory Board for Global Carbon Systems, Australia. Dr
Blake is a Member of the Institute of Directors and a Fellow of the Chartered
Institute of Management and chairs and advises a multitude of strategic groups,
all focused on the development and deployment of low carbon infrastructure. Dr
Blake is also a strategic advisor to the Scottish Government’s Renewable Energy


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