South Africa Now Global Leader in Solar Thermal Technology, Result of Queensland Pull Out from Australia’s Largest Sun Power Plant Project

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By Vittorio Hernandez | November 13, 2012 10:54 AM EST

Australian officials were recently crowing about becoming the global leader in solar power generation with the announced roll out of the $1.2-billion Western Downs facility.

On Monday, Australia lost the crown before it could wear the tiara to South Africa after Queensland withdrew $75 million funding for the venture. The money was promised by the state government led then by Labor Queensland leader Anna Bligh.

With her stunning electoral defeat, the Newman government took over and backed out of the deal.

The project was supposed to build a 250-megawatt solar thermal power plant near Chinchilla in the southwest part of the state. It was calendared to begin construction in 2013.

"The process of developing major power projects remains complex and time-consuming, particularly given we are competing in a dynamic energy market," a Queensland spokesman explained.

Despite the decision to cancel the project following the state government's action, the Solar Dawn Consortium insisted it is committed to the country's large-scale concentrated solar power industry.

While these developments were taking place in Australia, the Spanish group Abengoa last week started the construction of two solar thermal projects in South Africa, the 50-megawatt Khi Solar One and the 100-megawatt KaXu Solar One CSP. The twin ventures combine the use of a solar tower and parabolic trough technologies.

Where Australia has apparently failed, South Africa is succeeding using stand alone systems by introducing a market-focused system that has caught the interest of the world's biggest solar and other alternative energy developers using an auction-based system. That system has so far attracted over $5 billion worth of solar energy projects during its first two auctions.

The two projected inked power purchase agreements with Eskom, the South Africa government-owned power utility company, while financing for the venture would come from South African and international financial institutions.

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