Constraints on solar energy use and potential in remote central Australia

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Maru, Yiheyis; Mathew, Supriya; Race, Digby; Spandonide, Bruno


Book Chapter

Geothermal, Wind and Solar Energy Applications in Agriculture and Aquaculture

33 p

Jochen Bundschuh

Reliable energy supply is essential for sustainable livelihoods in remote Australia. Despite being approximately 2.5% of the Australian population, a quarter of remote Australia residents are Indigenous people with a majority of them living in more than 1,200 discrete settlements and in a few major remote towns throughout Australia’s desert region. Diesel-generated power is currently the dominant source of energy for households, businesses, government services and transport in these communities. Several factors warrant a shift to renewable energy (RE) sources for remote Australia. Off-grid diesel power generation in these remote locations is expensive and heavily dependent on government subsidies, which in recent years has come under increasing political pressure. The cost for governments to provide a reliable supply of energy, as per the universal energy service obligation, is one of the major concerns raised in discussion about the ongoing viability of small remote indigenous settlements. On top of the need for energy in remote locations is the expected increase in the population and the impacts of climate change associated extreme events (e.g. an increase heatwaves, floods and storms). Moreover, transporting diesel long distance to remote area is associated with health and safety risks Diesel fuel use also generates carbon dioxide emissions and contributes to environmental pollution. This continued use of diesel in remote inland Australia is in spite of the region having one of the highest concentration solar radiation per unit area in the world. In this chapter we investigate the opportunities and challenges of solar energy supply to remote indigenous communities. We draw on a review of the literature and focus on case study communities where the authors have conducted recent research – a major regional town (Alice Springs) and a smaller remote community (Lajamanu). Our findings indicate that the recent advance in solar PV technologies and decline in the initial cost of solar installation has led to a similar cost of producing a unit of energy from solar and diesel generators to warrant consideration of solar for new energy demand and replace existing aging diesel operation in many remote settlements. While there is still more technological research work needed to develop cheap and reliable energy storage for solar as a major source in hybrid-energy or sole-energy settings for off-grid power supply, the major causes of the low use of solar appear to be an interaction of inadequate, misaligned or mismatching capital (physical, financial and human), and constraining institutional (policy, regulation and incentives) factors. Integrated social, technical and institutional solutions are required before solar can become the dominant energy source to improve the wellbeing of indigenous communities in remote Australia.

CRC Press Taylor and Francis Group

Sociology and Social Studies of Science and Technology

Sustainable Energy Developments


Book chapter


Maru, Yiheyis; Mathew, Supriya; Race, Digby; Spandonide, Bruno. Constraints on solar energy use and potential in remote central Australia. In: Jochen Bundschuh, editor/s. Geothermal, Wind and Solar Energy Applications in Agriculture and Aquaculture. CRC Press Taylor and Francis Group; 2017. 33 p.

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