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Tuesday, 9 December 1986
Page: 3655

(Question No. 1525)


Senator Jessop asked the Minister for Resources and Energy, upon notice, on 17 November 1986:

(1) Is the Minister for Resources and Energy aware of a recent report in the National Times on Sunday, of 12 October 1986, regarding a new technology designed to extract heat energy from Hot Dry Rock and has the Department received or requested details concerning the trial run Hot Dry Rock project at Los Alamos.

(2) Does the Department intend to evaluate the recent Los Alamos experiment, and other Hot Dry Rock projects around the world, in order to determine whether this technology may become economically viable, and under what circumstances it would be economically viable.

(3) Using present Hot Dry Rock technology how does this energy source compare with other energy sources such as coal, oil, nuclear, hydroelectric, geothermal and solar, in terms of economics, the environment, availability and potential reserves.

(4) Are there any areas in Australia which would be considered suitable for the exploitation of this Hot Dry Rock technology.

(5) Are there any Hot Dry Rock projects planned for Australia, and is anybody working on this technology in this country.


Senator Gareth Evans —The answer to the honourable senator's question is as follows:

(1) Yes.

(2) The Hot Dry Rock (HDR) project being conducted by the Los Alamos National Laboratory is one of a number of international collaborative energy R & D projects being undertaken under the auspices of the International Energy Agency (IEA). Australia has access to progress reports on the project.

(3) Present indications from the Los Alamos work are that by 1988 it should be possible to establish finally whether high temperature HDR energy systems are technically feasible in volcanic regions such as those occurring in New Mexico. At this stage it is not possible to make definitive cost projections for electricity produced from such plants. However, current indications from the UK are that HDR plants will not be capable of producing electricity at costs competitive with those of Australian coal-fired power plants. In view of Australia's vast reserves of low cost coal, it would appear that HDR technology will have little relevance to Australia in the foreseeable future.

(4) On economic grounds the answer is no.

(5) My Department is not aware of any HDR research projects currently being undertaken in Australia. Given the state of the technology, it is premature to undertake extensive assessment of Australian resources until it becomes apparent whether the technology can be commercially employed.

However, there are real prospects for using Australia's geothermal water resources in regions of Australia remote from the major electricity grids. Communities and homesteads located in such areas are reliant upon a high cost electricity supply provided by diesel generators.

Last month I awarded a grant of $573,000 to Enreco Pty Ltd, a company based in Alice Springs and Adelaide, to install a geothermal power plant at Birdsville in western Queensland. Water, which is discharged from the town's artesian bore at a temperature of 99*C, will be used to operate a 120kW heat engine developed by the company. The text of my Press Statement on the project follows:

``The Commonwealth Minister for Resources and Energy, Senator Gareth Evans, QC, has announced a grant of $573,000 to an Alice Springs company, Enreco Pty Ltd, to harness the Birdsville artesian water supply to meet the town's electricity requirements. Water, which is discharged from the artesian bore at a temperature of 99*C, will be used to operate a 120kW organic rankine cycle heat engine.

``For many isolated Australian communities relying on diesel generators for their electricity, hot artesian bores used in conjunction with organic rankine cycle heat engines could represent an economic alternative.

``These heat engines can also be used with other low grade sources of heat and a prototype of the Enreco heat engine is being used to produce electricity from a solar pond in Alice Springs.

``The installation at Birdsville, which will be only the second of its type, will build upon earlier experience gained with a smaller system which has been operating at Mulka Station in north-eastern South Australia since May this year. The Birdsville system is eight times the size of the Mulka Station unit and will incorporate a number of design improvements.''