Abengoa feasibility study could pave the way for solar thermal with storage in Australia

Spanish renewable energy giant Abengoa has secured $450,000 in funds from the Australian Renewable Energy Agency to conduct a feasibility study into building a 20MW solar thermal tower plant with storage in Australia.

Abengoa, which recently completed the 280MW Solana project – parabolic trough with storage – in Arizona, is looking to build the plant at Perenjori, a small town north of Perth, close to a booming mining region.

ARENA CEO Ivor Frischknecht said the Spanish company’s solar thermal tower and a molten-salt energy storage system could supply power to local mining operations, as well as the remote community of Perenjori.

“The choice of Perenjori is consistent with the research conducted in the ARENA-funded ‘Breaking the Solar Gridlock’ study that shows solar thermal could eliminate the need for network augmentation in more than 70% of the cases examined,” he said in a statement.

The prospect of the Abengoa project going ahead could also provide a much needed boost to solar thermal in Australia. Still yet to take off down under, the technology, when combined with storage, is considered to be the next big breakthrough for renewables, able to deliver dispatchable energy at scale and at the same cost of baseload gas as early as 2020. Even the Abbott government’s Energy White Paper predicted solar thermal could account for 16 per cent of delivered electricity by 2050.

According to Frischknecht, Abengoa’s technology is a perfect fit for Perenjori, with “a world-class solar resource and end-of-grid connection of a solar thermal power plant with storage would provide significant network benefits. Storage will allow the plant to generate electricity when needed and match evening peak demand on the SWIS.”

Frischknecht said the project had the potential to uncover valuable learning for future solar thermal projects. Another feasibility study is being undertaken in Port Augusta, where the local community is keen to replace the ageing coal fired generator, and solar thermal was also being considered at the old Collinsville coal generator near Townsville, where a hybrid solar thermal, solar PV and gas project was on the drawing board.

A local Australian technology, using smaller towers developed by Vast Solar, has also received funding from ARENA for a 1MWe demonstration project in western NSW. Meanwhile, Solar Reserve, which is about to complete the world’s first 100MW plus solar tower with storage project in Nevada, has opened an office in Perth to consider similar projects.

Frischknect said the Abengoa feasibility study would assess heliostats (mirrors that reflect the sunlight on to a collector) developed by the CSIRO, as well as local supply chain opportunities.

Abengoa’s involvement is interesting, after the company effectively withdrew from Australia several years ago in frustration at the confusing policy, and the mismanagement of the Solar Flagships program by the then Labor government.

Frischknecht said – given the opportunities to allocate capital in other countries such as Chile and South Africa and the US – ARENA’s involvement was critical in encouraging Abengoa to explore more deeply the project economics in Australia and “whether it made sense”.

Top image via Vast Solar

© 2014 Solar Choice Pty Ltd

Giles Parkinson