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Alice Springs, located right in the middle of the very sunny Outback region of Australia, has become that nation’s second “solar city.”  These cities rely upon solar energy for electricity, vastly reducing carbon emissions as part of a government-backed effort to further the development of solar power technologies. The announcement follows the launch of the first solar city last fall in Adelaide, located on the sunny southern coast at the Gulf of St. Vincent.  With a population hovering over 1.1 million, Adelaide is the fifth largest city in Australia.

The Adelaide solar initiative included the installation of 1700 solar panels and 7000 accompanying smart meters in several Adelaide suburbs.  The project was funded with a $(AU)15 million grant from the government and an additional $(AU)38 million in investments from the private sector.

This first pilot project is expected to save $(AU)5 million for local consumers annually plus result in a greenhouse gas reduction of 30,000 tons every year.  At the time of the launch, then-Environment Minister Malcolm Turnbull said: “This installation of up to two megawatts of renewable power on homes and commercial buildings will double South Australia’s current solar capacity.  These residents and businesses in northern Adelaide will be leading the way in embracing energy efficiency and solar power.”

The smart meters that were installed display real time energy consumption information, giving energy consumers there a level of detail they never had before.  Additionally, local utility companies are educating consumers on ways to become more energy efficient.  The education efforts are vitally important as any conservation effort requires a changing of habitual consumption patterns.

Turnbull added: “Energy audits will be offered to residents and businesses to help them understand how they can cut energy consumption around their homes or offices.  This is a great opportunity to cut power bills, save energy and cut carbon emissions at home.  These communities will ensure Australia’s future energy options are based on intelligent and sensible information.

Alice Springs has become the second solar city with total project funding of $(AU)37 million.  Due to its unique geographical location in the central Outback, Alice Springs averages over 9 hours of sunshine a day throughout the year.  The sunny climate and the solar city designation will save 10 kilowatts of power and reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 12,000 tons every year.

Over 200 private homes and a few businesses are signed up for the project and were fitted with photovoltaic solar cells for the trial run.  Additionally, a thousand homes received solar water heaters, and 400 homes and businesses had smart meters installed to encourage energy conservation efforts such as those in the Adelaide area.

At the launch of the Alice Springs effort, current Environment Minister Peter Garrett said: “Alice Springs is a unique example of how the Australian Government’s Solar Cities program is learning more about the needs of a remote community in reducing greenhouse gas emissions.  We’ll be collecting vital data through installing solar photovoltaic panels on homes and businesses, rolling out solar hot water systems and smart meters and providing solar installations for iconic sites around Alice Springs.”

As in Adelaide, the installations of new equipment has been accompanied by education efforts for the public.  In Alice Springs, the Alice Solar City Smart Living Centre was opened solely for public education purposes.  Added Garrett, “This is what Solar Cities is all about – helping families and businesses take action on climate change and seeing what works best so that we can roll it out to the rest of the nation.”

A total of five cities have been targeted to become “solar cities” including Adelaide, Alice Springs, Townsville, Blacktown, and Central Victoria covering a total of around a quarter million Australian energy customers who will rely on solar power for their electricity needs.  The full project will include over 3400 solar panels, 15,000 smart meters and 4100 hot water systems that rely on the sun for heat.

The project in its entirety is slated for a six-year run.  The new government promised to expand the Solar Cities project to include the cities of Perth and Coburg as well within their campaign pledges.  Australia hopes these cities will serve as models not only for their home country, but for the rest of the world as to how far municipalities can go by relying solely on free, clean energy from the sun.
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