A 150MW solar thermal power plant will be built in South Australia by global company SolarReserve.
The Aurora Solar Energy Project located in Port Augusta, about 300km north of the South Australian capital Adelaide, will incorporate eight hours of storage or 1100 megawatts-hours, allowing it to operate like a conventional coal or gas power station.
The AU$650 million plant – the biggest of its kind in the world – will have a capacity of about 135MW under normal operating conditions with the ability to increase that output in favourable conditions.
It will be situated about 150km northwest of Jamestown, where Elon Musk will install the world’s largest Lithium-ion battery at Hornsdale Wind Farm
Aurora will deliver 495 gigawatt-hours of power annually – providing fully dispatchable baseload electricity to the network.
The plant will go ahead after SolarReserve was awarded a contract with the South Australian Government
In September 2016 the State Government launched a tender process to procure 75 per cent of its long-term power supply in order to attract a new competitor into the electricity market, increasing competition and putting downward pressure on power prices.
The offer from SolarReserve was the lowest-cost option of the shortlisted bids with the Government paying no more than $78/MWh.
SolarReserve CEO Kevin Smith said energy storage technology was an excellent fit for the South Australian electricity system and would create jobs and stimulate long-term economic development.
“Aurora will provide much needed capacity and firm energy delivery into the South Australian market to reduce price volatility,” he said.
SolarReserve will establish an Australian headquarters in Adelaide by the end of the year with construction of the Aurora plant on a vast pastoral station, pictured below, about 30km north of Port Augusta.
The project will use thousands of mirrors (heliostats) to reflect and concentrate sunlight onto a central receiver on top of a tower. The process heats molten salt, pumped to the top of the tower and flowing through the receiver, to 565 degrees Celsius.
The molten salt provides a stored heat source that is used to generate steam to drive a single turbine that generates electricity. The facility can generate power at full load for up to eight hours after sunset.
The project is a big win for the Port Augusta community, which is still recovering from the closure of a major coal-fired power station in the town last year.
South Australian Premier Jay Weatherill said the Port Augusta story was a stark example of the transition of the South Australian economy.
“The Aurora Solar Energy Project will enhance South Australia's reputation as a leader in clean, cheap renewable energy,” he said.
“This is a terrific result for the people of Port Augusta who have campaigned hard to deliver this outcome for their community.”
Australian Solar Council and Energy Storage Council Chief Executive John Grimes said the project was a huge win for South Australia, which has faced a difficult 12-months of power outages and electricity price increases.
“Solar thermal in Port Augusta means jobs for regional South Australia. It means zero emissions baseload power," he said.
It will be the second solar thermal plant in the Port Augusta region. Sundrop Farms opened a greenhouse facility in October powered by thermal solar energy to grow more than 15,000 tonnes of tomatoes a year.
South Australia leads the nation in the uptake of wind energy and rooftop solar with renewable sources accounting for more than 40 per cent of the electricity generated in the state. However, the closure of two coal-fired power stations in recent years has increased South Australia’s reliance on energy supplies from the eastern Australian states, particularly in times of peak demand.
More expert comment provided by the Australian Science Media Centre:
Dr Ariel Liebman, Deputy Director for Monash Energy Materials and Systems Institute (MEMSI), at Monash University
"The Port Augusta Solar Thermal plant will be a great complement to the range of new technologies now in South Australia and the rest of the nation such as wind, solar PV and electric battery such as the Neoen/Tesla battery announced last month. Solar thermal with storage is an ideal partner to the other new technologies whose growing deployment is now unstoppable. Being able to store its own energy output in a thermal way (not electrically such as in the case of lithium ion) makes this a truly dispatchable renewable technology.
While this particular project appears to be uneconomic without the state government subsidy, de-risking early stage investment is the government's role and as more deployment of new technologies will bring the cost down as industry learns how to manufacture and deploy at scale. We need the most diverse mix of technologies possible if we are to ensure we limit climate change based temperature rises to two degrees if not 1.5 degrees.
It will add to the downward pressure on wholesale energy prices although at the size of 150 MW, the impact will be quite small and it is unlikely to be felt in the end-consumer bill, particularly as the majority of the retail electricity price rises seen over the past ten years have little to do with the cost of energy generation but more to do with failures in retail competition as well and wholesale market ownership concentration and insufficient transmission inter-connector capacity in the National Electricity Market."
Ariel is contactable on +61 3 9903 1970, +61 419 186 534 or email@example.com
Dr Mark Diesendorf, Associate Professor and Deputy Director of the Institute of Environmental Studies at the University of New South Wales
"An excellent decision! Port Augusta's concentrated solar thermal power station with thermal storage will be a dispatchable source of renewable power.
In other words, it will supply power on demand. Along with the Tesla battery and open-cycle gas turbines, it will balance the fluctuations of the variable renewable energy sources, wind and solar PV."
Mark is contactable on +61 2 9385 5707, +61 402 940 892 or firstname.lastname@example.org
Wasim Saman,Professor of Sustainable Energy Engineering at the University of South Australia
"This is first large scale application of solar thermal generation in Australia which has been operating successfully in Europe, USA and Africa. The significance of solar thermal generation lies in its ability to provide energy virtually on demand through the use of thermal energy storage to store heat for running the power turbines.
This is a substantially more economical way of storing energy than using batteries. While this technology is perhaps a decade behind solar PV generation, many future world energy forecasts include a considerable proportion of this technology in tomorrow’s energy mix."
Wasim is contactable on +61 8 8302 3008, +61 478 402 191 or email@example.com
Honorary Associate Professor Hugh Saddler, Research Associate at the Centre for Climate Economy and Policy, at The Australian National University
"This concentrating solar thermal power station will be Australia’s first major solar thermal power station. This will make it one of the most important milestones along Australia’s transition to a low emission electricity system.
The project will deliver both direct generation of electricity when the sun is shining plus up to eight hours of molten salt thermal energy storage.
The storage will allow the power station to keep supplying electricity at full capacity for some hours after the sun has set and peak evening demand for electricity has passed. It will thus combine both generation and storage in the one plant, greatly enhancing the reliability and security of the electricity grid in SA.
At a reported 125 MW it will be large enough to supply 5 per cent of the state’s current total daily electricity consumption.
The reported contract price to the state government of $78 per MWh is not much higher than recent contract wind generation prices and at or below prices for electricity from current solar photovoltaic power stations, neither of which include energy storage. It is also well below the estimated cost of any new coal fired power station in Australia, and well below the spot wholesale price of electricity in the SA market region, which has averaged between $110 and $120 per MWh since March this year."
Hugh is contactable on +61 407 624 304 or firstname.lastname@example.org