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The big clean technology trends for Australia in 2013

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(This is an excerpt from the Australian Cleantech Review 2013 to be released this week. Additional coverage of the report can be found here).

From a technology perspective there are many trends emerging globally that will impact cleantech activities in Australia. There are also some local technology trends that need to be understood and carefully watched. Some of these are detailed below.

Wind Turbine Efficiency

Wind turbine technology is becoming more efficient at lower wind speeds opening up additional wind farm locations and potentially moving away from high profile and often contentious coastal areas. This is being driven by both cheaper sites inland and increasing community resistance to additional wind farms. In 2013 the added pressure of 2km limits already imposed in Victoria and New South Wales and the continuing well-funded and factually inept anti-wind farm campaigns through News Ltd, 2GB, 3AW and other channels will continue to drive wind farms to alternate locations.

Offshore Wind

Offshore wind is growing fast globally and particularly in Europe. However, Australia with large expanses of cheap land is unlikely to see any installation within the next ten years.

Small Wind

Small wind turbine technologies, especially those using a vertical axis, are improving rapidly and large scale roll-outs are likely to be seen over the next few years.

Rooftop PV

Globally and locally, the rate of installation of rooftop solar pV panels will continue to increase despite the reduction in tariffs around the world. The growth in thin film technologies has been set back due to the rapid reduction in cost of polysilicon that has reduced or even removed their cost benefits. This has been seen with the high profile failures of companies such as Solyndra. The conventional PV panels will continue to fall in price through 2013 and may reach less than US$0.55/W for wholesale panels. This compares to nearly $2.00/W at the end of 2010.

Commercial PV

Ground mounted, tracking and commercial roof flat plate solar pV systems of up to 5MW is a growing market segment in Australia. Whilst generally excluded from the feed-in schemes, as the technologies start to approach grid parity, it will be the large installations with greater economies of scale that will be installed first.

BIPV

The first Building Integrated pV (BIPV) were available in 2011 but are still expensive. 2013 will see the continued price reduction and deployment of these technologies. It will however still be several years before these products are truly competitive on price.

Concentrating Solar

High efficiency solar PV cells for use in concentrating solar systems will continue to improve and lead the concentrating solar industry towards this solution in the longer term.

Energy Storage

Energy storage and smart grid technologies will continue to enter the market during 2013, with some potentially some big breakthroughs in market ready batteries and their battery management systems possible during the year. This is largely being driven by multinationals such as GE, Siemens and Chinese and Korean firms although there are some active smaller Australian companies such as Redflow, Cap-XX, Ecoult and ZEN Energy.

Recycling Technologies

Driven by increasing commodity prices, innovative resource recovery technologies will continue to emerge in 2013 to capture metals from wastewater, plastics reprocessing and other key recycling feedstocks.

Electric Vehicles

The choice for consumers of hybrid and fully electric vehicles will continue to increase in 2013 as new products enter the new markets. The roll-out of recharging networks has taken a step backwards with the demise of Better Place Australia but is likely to help focus the roll out towards home recharging and fast charging and away from the battery swap technology that had many doubters as to its longevity.

Desalination

With desalination facilities being installed at increasing rates globally, there will be an increasing driver for technologies that improve operational performance through, for instance, reducing power requirements or increasing membrane lives. Australia has a number of groups focussing on these technologies that may emerge in 2013.

Biofuels

Whilst 2013 is likely to see some additional good breakthroughs in cellulosic and possibly even algae technologies, it is unlikely that these will be close to entering the market this year.

Geothermal

It was hoped that 2012 would have seen the long awaited proof of concept for the Hot Dry Rock geothermal industry. Whilst there was some progress, there was little interest as shown by the repeated poor performance of the ACT Geothermal Index. Australian expertise is however being deployed globally and this may make some progress in less challenging environments during 2013.

Waste-to- energy and Biomass

Waste-to-energy and biomass both have massive near-term potential although have to date been hindered by supply chain and feedstock sourcing issues and the perceptions of perceived ‘incineration’ being bad within the community. Once these hurdles are negotiated, it is likely that a good number of projects may be delivered.

Wave and Tidal Energy

With wave and tidal energy, there is much focus on pulling through the best technologies around the world and particularly in Canada, Scotland and Korea. There are a few promising technologies in Australia but appear likely to only succeed if they step early into international partnerships. There appears to an emerging consensus that the likely winners will be entirely undersea to avoid the ‘visual pollution’ arguments besetting the wind industry.

Building Technologies

Building technology uptake and development will continue to be slow which will limit the technology developments coming through. Until property investors grapple with the issue of lifecycle value recuperation, technologies in this area are only going to provide niche market solutions. This is likely to be boosted in 2013 by the ongoing, if slow, roll out of Environmental Finance Agreements to provide the structure for benefits to be shared equitably.

John O’Brien is managing director of Australian Cleantech, a research and advisory firm. The full report will be released this week at functions at Perth and Brisbane.
  

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  • So, CST with molten salt storage, a commercially deployed technology in Spain and the USA doesn’t rate a mention. Hope the report has something to say about them!