Could solar towers (with storage) replace Victoria’s ageing coal plants?

Analysts are scrambling to identify the possible impacts of the closure of Australia’s most polluting power station, and the withdrawal of more than 1500MW of coal-fired capacity from the Victorian grid.

According to some, however, the impending closure of Hazelwood in Victoria could provide the impetus for the construction of the first large-scale solar tower and storage project in Australia.

This is because the closure of Hazelwood would likely mean that the Pelican Point gas plant near Adelaide would operate as a baseload generator again, either under the ownership of Engie or – if the French company decides to exit the Australian market all together – under new owners, most likely AGL Energy or Origin.

Either way, neither scenario would introduce new competition to the market, leaving the door open to new competitors, such as the 110MW solar tower and storage plant being proposed by SolarReserve, the US company that is now operating a similar plant in Nevada, and which is the biggest in the world of its type.

It is confident it can compete on price with any new gas-fired generators, although it would struggle to match any offers for a plant that was built nearly two decades ago and which could also benefit from the additional $24 million subsidy offered by the state to release new gas reserves.

That would be a double bonus from the closure of Hazelwood, even a three-fold one. It would provide an added incentive for Victoria to build more large-scale wind and solar, could provide South Australia with the baseload that the minister appears to be craving, and also open the door to the technology of the future, and which will be able to provide flexible generation without any carbon emissions.

“The South Australian government should use its power purchase to make solar thermal in Port Augusta happen, creating on-demand clean power and a new industry for SA,” said Dan Spencer, campaigner with the Repower Port Augusta group which wants solar towers to replace the closed Northern power station.

“If it’s the view of the Minister that Pelican Point will operate following the expected Hazlewood closure, it makes no sense for the government to consider Pelican Point for its power use.

“The SA government’s power purchase is one of its strongest levers to drive new renewable technologies, let’s hope they use it.”

© 2016 Solar Choice Pty Ltd

Giles Parkinson