In recent years as drought has tightened its grip throughout much of the country, Australia has increasingly turned to the ocean for our fresh water supply.
Late last month, Western Australia’s Minister for Water, Graham Jacobs, signed a $955 million contract for the construction of a new desalination plant outside Binningup.
Desalination can greatly reduce our demand on our ailing waterways – but at a huge cost in terms of energy; much of which is still created by carbon emissions intensive coal fired power generation. Up to 44% of the cost of desalination is the energy component and even efficient desalination plants consume about 5 kWh of energy per cubic metre of fresh water produced.
While Western Australia may be short on water, it’s also short on electricity. Wwith a predicted 200 megawatt shortfall in the summer of 2011-12, the state is increasing its reliance on coal by re-starting a decommissioned power station to cope
The state currently only sources about 5% of its electricity from renewable resources. A recent commitment by the Western Australian government to the implementation of a gross solar feed in tariff to increase commercial and home solar power uptake was shelved in favour of a net feed in tariff program, which is yet to be rolled out.
However, Dr Jacobs said that renewable energy would be used to power the new desalination facility. Instead of powering the installation directly by solar or wind energy, the Water Corporation intends to purchase all the energy requirements and associated Renewable Energy Certificates for the Southern Seawater Desalination Plant from renewable energy generators.
The remainder will be purchased from renewable energy generators using technologies not yet commercially proven at this point in time. What these technologies are was not clarified in the announcement.