Australia plans world’s biggest solar power farm

Australia on Wednesday announced plans to build the world’s biggest spaceage solar power station as part of a $500 million radical rethink on climate change.

The government said it would contribute $75 million towards the cost of the photovoltaic solar power plant in the first of a series of projects aimed at reducing the greenhouse gas emissions blamed for global warming.

The move comes as the government, which like the United States has refused to sign the Kyoto Protocol on climate change, tries to contain the political impact of the worst drought in living memory.

Treasurer (finance minister) Peter Costello said the plant near Mildura in the southern state of Victoria would be the biggest of its kind.

“The project aims to build the biggest photovoltaic project in the world and this is by using mirrors which concentrate the sun’s rays on a power plant,” Mr Costello told the Australian Broadcasting Corporation.

The 154 megawatt power station will cost a total of $420 million and will be built by Melbourne-based Solar Systems. The plant will generate clean electricity directly from the sun to meet the needs of more than 45,000 homes with zero greenhouse gas emissions, the company said.

It will use high performance solar cells originally developed to power satellites, with fields of mirrors focusing sunlight on the cells. “Solar Systems has developed the capability to concentrate the sun by 500 times onto the solar cells for ultra-high power output,” the company said. A spokesperson for the company said that there was one bigger solar power station in the world, in the Mojave desert in California, but it used thermal solar tech nology. “Thermal stations use concentrated sunlight to heat water to make steam and use steam to run a turbine,” said technical director John Lasich.

“In this case we use concentrated photovoltaics where you take concentrated sunlight and convert it directly into electricity, which is much more efficient.” The project will start in 2008 and reach full capacity by 2013. Mr Costello said the government would also put 50 million dollars into a 360 million dollar pilot project to reduce, capture and store carbon dioxide emissions from a coal-fired power station in the same state.

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