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October 26, 2006

What's Next for the Aussie Solar Tower?

Enviromission03_1The Australian government’s decision to award Solar Systems a $A75 million (about $US57 million) to build the world’s largest solar power station in the Australian state of Victoria is a big setback for rival EnviroMission. The Melbourne company is seeking to build a 50-megawatt, 1,600-foot-high solar tower power plant in the state of New South Wales, just over the border from Victoria. EnviroMission had competed for the grant, which it was counting on to jump-start construction of the solar tower next year and attract additional investors. The grant, part of the Australian government’s Low Emissions Technology Demonstration Fund, is intended to give renewable energy companies enough cash to get their projects off the ground and demonstrate their technology’s feasibility on a large scale.

I chronicled EnviroMission’s six-year quest to build a solar tower on the edge of the Australian Outback in "Tower of Power," which appeared the August issue of Business 2.0.  EnviroMission on Wednesday requested the Australian Stock Exchange suspend trading in its shares pending an announcement on Friday. Originally proposed as a 1-kilometer-high, 100-megawatt plant, the solar tower was redesigned with an eye to winning the government grant. EnviroMission CEO Roger Davey told me in late June that if the company lost the grant it would re-evaluate the tower’s design to ensure its commercial viability and would arrange alternative financing.  Meanwhile, EnviroMission’s joint venture with Chinese investors to build a solar tower near Shanghai is proceeding.

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This is very curious, especially considering that Solar Systems' proposal generates less than half the power at an increased cost. I wonder who is backing SS behind the scenes and why.

It's hard to say at this point why Solar Systems beat out EnviroMission. One factor may have been the fact that Solar Systems has a track record in that it currently operates several small scale solar power stations in Australia and has a partnership with a Boeing subsidiary to produce solar cells that will be used in the 154-megawatt plant. Solar Systems had raised $50 million from unnamed investors.

Its a shame that Australia cant provide some funding to both.After all, the letd is supposed to be a technology demonstrator.
So if we were serious about it we would be trialling a couple of different technologies to see which is best.
I wonder how many Abrams tanks it would take to build the solar tower?

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