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Technology in Australia 1788-1988Australian Academy of Technological Sciences and Engineering
Table of Contents

Chapter 11

I The Present Energy Economy

II Australian Energy Consumption

III Research And Development

IV Coal

V Oil And Natural Gas

VI Solar Energy
i Research and Development
ii The state of the art
iii Collectors
iv The solar water heating industry
v Industrial applications
vi Swimming pool heating
vii Building heating and cooling
viii Photovoltaics
ix Wind power
x Cooling
xi The International Solar Energy Society

VII Nuclear Energy

VIII Bagasse Firewood And Other Biomass

IX Electric Power Generation And Distribution electric Power Generation And Distribution

X Manufactured Gas

XI Industrial Process Heat



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Research and Development

The earliest use of solar energy on a significant scale was the introduction of windmills in the latter half of the 19th century for pumping water from bores and streams. For many decades they were an important power source in an energy starved semi-arid economy. Firewood, which can be regarded as stored solar energy, was the main source of energy for the early settlers. It was used for heating, cooking and even steam engines before coal was available, but energy usage was low. As living standards rose, so did energy consumption per head, and coal and oil became the main sources of primary energy. By the middle of the 20th century it became clear that availability of the liquid fossil fuels, on which we had become dependent, was limited and it was important that alternatives be found and energy conservation encouraged.

There was a growing belief by energy technologists throughout the world that reserves of fossil fuel, especially oil, were being depleted so rapidly that the search for renewable sources of energy had become urgent and attention was focused on solar energy to meet this perceived threat. Very little R&D on solar energy utilization had been undertaken prior to 1945, but the late 1950s saw increasing interest in academic institutions in USA and Israel and a few years later in Australia.

Australia in 1953 had no significant indigenous oil or natural gas and it was considered unlikely that commercial quantities would be discovered. CSIRO's Central Experimental Workshops was changing its role from a service group to engineering research and development in areas which were considered to be of strategic significance to the country by virtue of its climate, its natural resources and its needs.

Solar energy was identified as one of these and by 1954 a prototype solar water heater had been built and tested. A report on its design and construction was published. At the 1955 Phoenix Symposium an account of this work was presented by Morse in a paper which was one of the first to set out the principles on which the design of solar water heaters could be based. It drew on what had previously been published, particularly Hout C. Hottel's work on flat plate collectors at Massachussets Institute of Technology (MIT) in USA.

Since there was considerable industrial and popular interest in this work, it was expanded and the group became the CSIRO Engineering Section, later the Division of Mechanical Engineering. It provided the R&D base for the new solar water heater industry in Australia, which now exports both products and technology to a number of countries. CSIRO began its solar energy R&D program in 1953 and by 1970 the Australian solar water heater industry was well established. Solar R&D programs had been set up in the Universities of Queensland, New South Wales and the James Cook University of North Queensland. During the next decade most of the Australian universities and the major institutes of technology had become interested in solar energy utilization.

This set the stage for the 1970 International Solar Energy Society Conference, which was held in Melbourne from 2-6 March, for the first time outside the United States. It attracted world-wide interest and was supported by the Australian and Victorian Governments. It was also recognition of the work of CSIRO's Division of Mechanical Engineering which was the largest group in Australia engaged in solar energy R&D at that time. It is interesting to note that even by 1974 there were no commercialised packaged solar water heating systems on the US market, whereas in Australia there were several brands being marketed by local manufacturers.

Organisations in Australian Science at Work - Australian Patents Office; CSIRO; CSIRO Central Experimental Workshops; CSIRO Division of Mechanical Engineering; James Cook University of North Queensland; Solahart; University of New South Wales

People in Bright Sparcs - Morse, R. N.

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© 1988 Print Edition pages 803 - 804, Online Edition 2000
Published by Australian Science and Technology Heritage Centre, using the Web Academic Resource Publisher