Wednesday, August 13, 2008

WorleyParsons warms to sun power

AUSTRALIA could house 34 solar thermal power stations by 2020, according to the country's largest engineering company, WorleyParsons, which plans to build the world's largest solar thermal power plant by 2011.

WorleyParsons' news and the release of its profit result — a 53% jump in full-year profit, in line with market expectations — lifted its shares $1.23, or almost 4%, to $34.68. Net profit rose to $343.9 million in the year to June 30 from $224.8 million previously.

Peter Meurs, managing director of WorleyParsons' EcoNomics unit, said the company was undertaking a study, funded by resources giants including BHP Billiton, Rio Tinto, Woodside Energy, Wesfarmers Resources and Fortescue Metals, to find potential sites for its first 250-megawatt solar thermal power station, theoretically enough to power 100,000 houses.

Mr Meurs said the company wanted to deliver 40% of Australia's renewable energy needs via solar thermal power by 2020.

Solar thermal energy harnesses solar energy to heat oil or water to produce steam, which is then converted into electricity. It differs from solar photovoltaics, the technology being used by Solar Systems for its $420 million, 154-megawatt power station near Mildura, which uses solar radiation to generate electricity directly.

"Photovoltaics have their place but it doesn't make commercial sense on a utility scale," Mr Meurs said. "Ours is a much lower cost per megawatt with thermal solar and because thermal solar allows heat storage … we can produce power into the evening and in the early morning."

Mr Meurs said he felt there was no need to wait until the study was completed before announcing the company's plans, saying Australia was ideal for setting up solar power.

"The desert-type conditions, almost no cloud cover and a large amount of solar radiation make a strong case for solar in Australia," he said.

Mr Meurs said South Australia, Western Australia and Queensland were in the running to be the manufacturing base for the technology.

Emissions trading had been factored into the business case for the solar power stations. It would be viable with the current price of carbon at about €23 ($A39) a tonne on the European futures market.

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