Construction begins on Australia’s first concentrating solar plant with storage

Construction of Australia’s first stand-alone concentrated solar thermal power station with integrated storage is underway in NSW, with a project that promises to deliver electricity on demand, for around the same cost as wind.

The 6MWh (1.1MWe) CST Jemalong project is being built in Forbes by Australian technology developer Vast Solar, and will include three hours storage.

Vast Solar CEO Andrew Want says the pilot project will demonstrate the company’s CST system from ‘sun-to-storage-to-grid’, adding that the technology could soon deliver electricity on demand at around $100/MWh – close enough to wind – with the added advantage of being “dispatchable”.

“Solar thermal power plants store the sun’s energy very efficiently and at large-scale, so solar can be used to deliver power when it is most needed and most valuable, day or night,” Want said.

“This has the potential to change the face of the CST market around the world,” Want told RenewEconomy in an interview, noting that, at the above price, to replace ageing coal-fired generators with solar power would make economic sense.

Vast Solar’s innovations are based around the use of small array modules with low-profile towers; a very different approach to the most recent large-scale, single tower projects, such as Crescent Dunes.

The Jemalong plant, which will supply electricity into the main grid by the end of the year, features five solar arrays that comprise 3,500 heliostats or mirrors, 5 towers less than 30 metres high with thermal energy receivers, and a thermal energy storage system providing enough energy for 3 hours’ full power operation at 1.1MWe (3.3MW storage).

The plant will be mainly for R&D, but it will provide enough electricity (around 2,200MWh) for around 400 average homes.

The key to Vast Solar’s technology – and its stated low-cost profile – is in the heat transfer fluid and how that is integrated into the system.

The key to its development on a commercial scale, however, is government support.

The company is working on plans for larger plants, including 30MW with four hours storage, but Want warns that any commercial-scale plans would have to be realised overseas if the Abbott government succeeded in scrapping the CEFC and ARENA.

The $10 million Jemalong project is backed by ARENA ($5 million), which the government announced last week it would close, despite pre-election promises to keep it open.

Want says the company is looking beyond Australia’s sun-rich states to international markets, such as the Middle East, US, Africa, South America and India, where this sort of technology is already being built.

Top image via Vast Solar.

© 2014 Solar Choice Pty Ltd

Giles Parkinson