Australian town to run on solar power in 2 years

SYDNEY (Reuters) - A sun-drenched town in Australia’s north hopes to use only solar power in two years after being chosen as the site for a solar thermal power station.

Remote Cloncurry, which boasts recording Australia’s hottest day, would be able to generate electricity on rare cloudy days and at night from the station, which runs off heat stored in graphite blocks.

The Queensland state government said on Sunday it would build the A$7 million ($6.5 million), 10-megawatt power station as part of a push to make Cloncurry one of the first towns to rely on solar power alone.

“The town of Cloncurry has long claimed the title of having recorded Australia’s hottest day -- 53 degrees (Celsius) in the shade in 1889, so I reckon we’re on a winner,” Queensland Premier Anna Bligh was quoted as saying by Australian Associated Press.

Solar thermal power differs from photovoltaic panels that make power directly.

Instead, 8,000 mirrors will reflect sunlight onto graphite blocks. Water will be pumped through the blocks to generate steam which generates electricity via turbines.

Heat stored in the graphite produces steam well after the sun goes down, allowing electricity generators to keep running at night.

The Queensland government said the station would deliver about 30 million kilowatt hours of electricity a year, enough to power the entire town. It is expected to be running by early 2010.

Australia and the United States have refused to ratify the Kyoto Protocol, which sets binding targets for carbon pollution by developed countries.

Australian Prime Minister John Howard says any global agreement must include big developing nations such as China and India, whose burgeoning economies have led to rapid growth in carbon dioxide emissions, which are blamed for global warming.

Australia’s greenhouse gas emissions are among the world’s highest per-capita and the government prefers to focus on energy efficiency and technology to limit carbon emissions.