Cloncurry is small, but has big ambitions. The remote mining outpost in northwest Queensland is racing to be the first town powered entirely by solar energy. Cloncurry, population 3,400, has a track record of firsts. Australia’s flying doctor service was inaugurated here and Qantas scheduled its first flight to Cloncurry. In 1889 the town recorded Australia’s highest temperature: 53.1C. Air-conditioning accounts for much of the energy usage.
The A$31m (€18m) scheme will use mirrors and unique heat-storage technology by Sydney-based Lloyd Energy Systems. “The project uses 8,000 curved mirrors to track the sun,” says chief executive Steve Hollis. Each 7 sq m mirror can focus sunlight to a point of less than 1 sq m. The site will have 54 18m-tall towers, each with a high-purity graphite block. Sunlight is directed onto the block, then water is passed through it, generating steam to drive a turbine.
“We use three components: mirrors, heat storage and a steam-powered generator,” explains Hollis. “The first and last are readily available, but the ability to store thermal energy transforms the whole system. Solar energy can be stored at the point of collection until it is required for conversion into electricity during peak hours, or even at night.” Towns in rural Australia, at the edges of the power grid, often suffer blackouts.
“By putting green power-generation at the ends of the grid,” says Hollis, “you save the transmission cost of getting the energy to a place as remote as Cloncurry and you save on upgrading the network.”
The feasibility study was completed late last year, and by the end of 2009, the project will supply 80 megawatt hours of electrical energy a day – more than Cloncurry’s daily requirements.
Clouds on the horizon
It may be known as the “land of the long white cloud”, but that nickname is becoming increasingly ironic as drought bites across much of New Zealand. High temperatures and low rainfall over the summer pushed many farming areas into drought, with the cost estimated at NZ$1.24bn (€600m) for the year to June. While decent rains – expected after April – will help alleviate the problem, the long-term effects could be much worse. One senior economist says the drought is one factor in a “perfect storm” of events, that could put the country into a recession.
Australian rugby is leading a southern hemisphere charge into the lucrative Asian market. With its coffers depleted over the past few years, the Australia Rugby Union (ARU) is eyeing up the potential of a continent largely untouched by the 15-a-side game. It has moved one of its annual contests against New Zealand to Hong Kong this November and – if all goes well – another match will be played in Japan next year, with China following. And, in a sign that the two countries can cooperate on the sporting field, if not in the whaling grounds of the Southern Ocean, Australia is pushing for a Japanese team to be included in the annual Super 14 provincial competition. The rewards are obvious if the sport can emulate international football’s lucrative milking of the Asian market.
Any commuter can tell you that Sydney’s trains are a wreck (it is why the city lost points in Monocle’s Most Liveable Cities Index, see issue 5). Now, the New South Wales state government has announced plans for an AU$12bn (€7bn) metro-style train system for the city’s north-western suburbs, to be completed within nine years. However, after years of transport projects that have either been cut back in scope or simply never materialised, the plan has been met with wise scepticism.
Australia has 107 fighters in the UN forces – a figure dwarfed by its 1,025 soldiers in Afghanistan. Fiji has stumped up a lone military observer to help monitor the situation in East Timor.