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Solar power: California shames Oz

By ERIC SHACKLE, in Sydney, Australia
 

Dr David Mills

While some Australian politicians plan to build still more atmosphere-polluting coal fired power stations, the nation's leading solar energy scientist, Dr. David Mills, neglected by his adopted country, has moved to the US to help build a solar thermal power station in Central California.

"The prime locations for solar thermal power generation in the world are Australia, Spain, Portugal, Saudi Arabia and the U.S. Southwest," said an article in California's Contra Costa Times last month.

" The desert gold rush is on. This time not for oil, but to capture the sun's heat. We are going to see a very large number of solar thermal projects in these vast regions endowed with an abundance of solar heat."

Two months ago, on Australia's national ABC-TV's The 7.30 Report, journalist Matt Peacock said:

Two of America's biggest power utilities have unveiled plans for a multi-billion-dollar expansion of solar power supply, backing the argument that solar energy can indeed become a viable alternative to coal-fired electricity.

The company at the heart of the development is Ausra. It was started by Australian solar expert David Mills, who left this country for California earlier this year to pursue the further development of his ground-breaking work.

What makes the announcement more significant is that the utilities are confidently predicting that their solar power will soon be providing baseload electricity - that is, day and night - at prices competitive with coal.

Then, on November 5, Pacific Gas and Electric Company announced that it had entered into a 177 megawatt solar thermal power purchasing agreement with Ausra Inc. The project, in central California, is being developed by Ausra, which plans to increase production to 2,000 MW over the next three years enough power for two million homes.

California's Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger said, "Today's agreement between PG&E and Ausra highlights how clean energy will create jobs in California while delivering a reliable source of renewable energy.

"I'm pleased to see California companies rising to the challenge of AB [Assembly Bill] 32, California's historic initiative to reduce carbon emissions and combat climate change. Clearly, California continues to lead the nation in clean energy research, development and generation."

And clearly Australia, with its vast deserts and many hours of bright sunshine, needs to invite David Mills to come home and work his magic in this country.

We like to call Dr. Mills an Australian, since he gained his PhD from the University of New South Wales and has been active in solar energy in this country since 1975, but he was born in Canada 61 years ago.

Writing in the Toronto Star in October, energy reporter Tyler Hamilton referred to him as "a mild-mannered Canadian a former CBC camera technician from south Etobicoke and physics graduate from McMaster University."

The article said: "He's determined to get countries such as the United States and China off their nasty habit of burning coal. He's got the financial backing of two of the world's highest-profile venture capitalists, and the attention of former U.S. president Bill Clinton.

"If David Mills gets his way, America's sun-bathed states and the deserts of Asia and Africa will become hubs of clean-power generation for their respective continents."

In a telephone interview from his new office in California's Silicon Valley, he told The Star "This is the most exciting time in my career. Better late than never."

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Story first posted December 2007

Copyright 2007

Eric Shackle

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