In total, Australia's proposed new solar plant may need to look something like this...
Kevin Rudd has announced that by 2015, Australia is to have the world's biggest solar power plant, with the capacity of a coal-fired power station, namely around 1000 Megawatts.
The current world's largest solar power plant, California's Solar Energy Generating System has a capacity of 354 Megawatts, however it actually produces an average of 103 Megawatts of electricity around the clock. So, the capacity of Australia's solar project may be about the same as a coal fired power station, but the actual output will be about one third of it, because of the noted tendency of the sun to go down in the evenings.
Australia's new solar plant will need to be three times bigger than the Californian one. A photograph of the Kramer Junction solar power plant, which has a capacity of 150 Megawatts, has been reproduced six times (above) to give you an idea of how large the Australian solar power plant will need to be - but note, it will still be 100 megawatts short of the capacity required to fulfil Kevin's announcement.
If we take statistics from the Californian plant and multiply by three, the Australian project will need:
* about 2,500,000 large curved mirrors
* to replace about 10,000 mirrors each year due to wind damage
* to wash each of the 2.5 million mirrors about 25 times per year to maintain efficiency
* millions of litres of chemicals that are used in the process of transferring heat to turn water into steam
* to be very careful with these chemicals. In 1999, a tank of 900,000 gallons of therminol set fire at the SEGS plant in California, causing the release of toxic fumes into the environment and evacuation of the area. Therminol is known to cause long term environmental impacts.
By my calculations, the project has the potential to produce approximately 0.6 per cent of Australia's current electricity needs, however this percentage is likely to diminish, as Australia's annual population growth rate is currently 1.2 per cent.