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Wednesday, 5 September 1984
Page: 480


Senator COLEMAN —Has the attention of the Minister for Resources and Energy been drawn to recent claims that amorphous silicon photovoltaic cells will soon supply all the electricity needs of new Japanese homes? If so, will he advise the Senate whether those claims are justified and whether research is being undertaken in Australia on the use of amorphous silicon photovoltaic cells as an alternative energy source?


Senator WALSH —My attention has been drawn to a letter that was published in the Australian on 20 August, signed by Jenny MacLeod, the New South Wales President of the Australian Democrats, in which it is claimed, inter alia, that for an extra 5 per cent to 10 per cent-presumably on the cost of an existing roof tile- a substance can be sprayed on to roof tiles which will supply the electricity needs of a household. The claim is wrong on several grounds. Firstly, according to estimates obtained from Sanyo quite recently, such tiles can be produced at two to four times the cost of the conventional roofing tiles, not an incremental cost of 5 per cent to 10 per cent as Ms MacLeod has claimed. Certainly, the amorphous silicon photovoltaic cells cannot be sprayed on. That is technically incorrect. Although such a cell is more efficient under low light conditions than the conventional solarvoltaic cell it is on average less efficient than the conventional photovoltaic cell.

Another very important economic ramification not mentioned by Ms MacLeod, the Australian Democrats New South Wales President, is that these photovoltaic cells produce direct current. To run a television set, for example, one must have alternating current and therefore an inverter would be required before the electricity produced by such roof tiles could be substituted for present power supplies in houses. Secondly, and most importantly, unless everybody who had these roof tiles was going to go to bed with the chooks-that is a Western Australian rural phrase which I should perhaps explain; it means going to bed at sundown-it would be absolutely essential to have storage batteries before the electricity supplied by these photovoltaic cells at unknown cost would be of any use at all to provide lights in the evening. The cost of storage batteries is very significant.

Senator Coleman also asked me what funding was being applied in Australia. Solar voltaic energy research is funded through the national energy research, development and demonstration program and from other sources in Australia listed and described in the document 'Compendium of Australian Energy Research, Development and Demonstration Projects No. 5' dated June 1984 and recently released.

To return to the substance of the question of the Australian Democrats New South Wales President, we are, of course, accustomed to such intellectual froth and bubble from the Australian Democrats. It might be suitable for a Democrats afternoon tea party; it is quite inapplicable, however, to those who are seriously involved in the business of government. At some point such wishful thinking and self-delusion ceases to be an excusable indulgence and becomes culpable intellectual sloth. Any party which gestates and midwifes such sloth should not be taken seriously when its candidates offer themselves for election to Parliament.