ARENA CEO Ivor Frischknecht’s speech at the Australian Concentrating Solar Thermal Symposium has highlighted the importance of research and development for renewables and the future applications for solar thermal.

Mr Frischknecht said that while passion and advocacy for renewables are important, it’s the research and development phase that allows innovation to occur and projects to go ahead.

“ARENA recognises that R&D is the place where innovation begins – the laboratory, the workbench, the green field – and without the initial R&D stage, further innovation cannot occur,” Mr Frischknecht said.

“ARENA has deep understanding of the connection between R&D and a commercial solution. Our work spans the innovation chain, from R&D through to early-stage commercial deployment.

“We’ve worked hard to ensure that commercial investors and industry get involved as early as possible in the development of a new solution.”

In his address, Mr Frischknecht said ARENA’s approach to renewable projects is commercially rigorous, during both the assessment of project proposals and the management of grants

“When necessary we have terminated projects that do not meet funding milestones and recouped funds for redeployment to new projects.

“This of course raises questions about ARENA’s future in supporting R&D, particularly solar R&D.

“We are currently conducting a solar R&D review, to better understand what future role ARENA should play in continuing to supporting the earlier stages of solar research.”

Mr Frischknecht said ARENA’s new solar research and development review will explore how Australia can make solar R&D a global endeavour, what types of solar R&D and value chain enablers should be fostered with taxpayer funds, and in what way ARENA should provide that support.

Mr Frischknecht’s speech also highlighted advances in solar thermal and ARENA’s growing interest in this area.

“ARENA has a technology neutral stance that gives us the flexibility to assess each renewable energy project on its merits,” Mr Frischknech said.

“As a result, ARENA’s current portfolio involves the commitment of $125million to 37 existing and completed solar thermal projects, which are worth $311million in total (at 31 March 2016).

Mr Frischknecht discussed Australia’s significant uptake of renewables, and the future potential of using renewables to generate heat as well as electricity.

“We can’t assume that today’s renewables technologies and solutions will necessarily remain at the forefront in the next 10, 20 or 50 years.

“ARENA’s long-lens approach is well suited to that uncertainty, and our technology neutral stance allows us to keep as many technological options as possible open for the future.

“ARENA is currently exploring the potential for heat-generating renewables to replace the use of gas in industrial processes. This has been identified as an investment priority for ARENA and we’ve held a number of workshops.”

ARENA has also announced funding for a solar thermal project in its latest research and development competitive funding round, which involves $4.5million funding to a $15million project that evaluates the potential for energy produced from CST to be integrated into the Bayer alumina refining process.

“If there is one thing those of us in the renewables sector are used to, it is uncertainty – it is an inevitable part of the innovation process, particularly at the R&D stage.

“Solar thermal will remain a part of ARENA’s work over that time in the hope that we can make Joy Baluch’s vision a reality. Or if not, find the best applications for solar thermal, which may be as a source of heat,” Mr Frischknecht said.

Jessica Dickers is an experienced journalist, editor and content creator who is currently the Editor of Utility’s sister publication, Infrastructure. With a strong writing background, Jessica has experience in journalism, editing, print production, content marketing, event program creation, PR and editorial management. Her favourite part of her role as editor is collaborating with the sector to put together the best industry-leading content for the audience.

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