The Beyond Zero Emissions Plan focuses on Solar Thermal with Storage as the core technology for Australia’s renewable energy future. The primary reason for them is that this provides 24 hour dispatchable baseload power to the grid. This means that the power supply can be turned on or off and scaled very quickly to meet demands. In fact CSP power plants are far more flexible than equivalent coal, gas and nuclear plants which can take hours or days to change their power output.
Australia has a long history demonstrating and working in the field of solar thermal power, with projects from CSIRO and universities dating back to 1994. It is more than a little bewildering that this has not already been converted into commercial operations, until one takes into account the ‘wasted years’ of the Howard government’s failure to invest in national infrastructure of any kind.
Apart from the move to renewable energy and the ability to provide dispatchable, baseload power, why else is solar thermal with storage so important to Australia in 2014?
- It is one of the best suited technologies for Australia. We have a lot of space to build huge generating plants in remote locations and the ability to use HVDC cables to move electricity to where it is needed.
- Part of what is needed is a government partnership commitment to build that cable to connect Copper Basin to the national grid. Then private generating companies can connect to it as required. This also means the cable (or cables) should be rated for enough capacity to
- It is a developing technology that Australia should be investing in heavily to gain a firm foothold in the global intellectual property.
- It would provide a new industry nationally building and operating the plants we need , providing employment for decades
- It would also enable and encourage many other supply industries involved in designing, building and operating elements of the plants and running the projects.
- The industry would provide direction for research and development positions for scientists and engineers working at universities and CSIRO.
- This in turn would provide the foundation for a wealth of patents and other IP.
- As a part of 100% clean energy supplies, it then enables heavy pursuit of electric vehicle technology, especially trains and long distance trucks.
- It can also provide a first example of running a new kind of public private partnership where the government ends up being an early investor who shares later profits.
So Australia needs a commercial Concentrated Solar Thermal Plant under construction as soon as possible.
So are there any projects underway?
The answer is yes, ARENA has provided just under half the funding for a 6MW plant to be constructed in Jemalong in New South Wales. Construction began in April 2014 and is expected to be complete by the end of 2014 with testing and optimisation to occur during 2015. The company performing the work is VastSolar, an Australian company with the vision to explore and build these solutions. VastSolar are also in the planning stages for a larger, 30MW power plant, with the project planned for 2016/17.
ARENA provided a grant in May 2014 to Abengoa to conduct a feasibility study for a 20MW plant in Western Australia. Whilst it isn’t under construction, this is a positive step forward as long as the current government does not interfere.
ARENA provided $1 million funding in January 2014 to partner with natural gas and electricity provider, Alinta, and the South Australian Government to undertake a $2.3 million study into solar thermal power generation at Port Augusta.  This is largely the result of a lengthy campaign by the Repower Port Augusta community.
An industry body was created in Australia in 2011 to act as a focal point for solar thermal deployments in Australia. The body is the Australian Solar Thermal Energy Association, known as Austela. They do not list any other planned projects.