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Solar power tower goes up in Australian desert, ready to grow tomatoes

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Construction of a world-leading, concentrated solar power (CSP) tower plant that will supply electricity heat and desalinated seawater to grow tomatoes in the Australian desert has reached a major milestone, with the erection of the 127 metre tower.

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The company behind the custom-built Port Augusta plant, Aalborg CSP, with construction group John Holland, put the final tower sections in place this week, topping it with the 234-tonne central boiler, which will soon receive the reflected sun rays from more than 23,000 mirrors.

As you can see in the video below, this final task – understood to be involve the largest lifts to this height ever undertaken in Australia – required some “careful calculations”.

Aalborg’s Integrated Energy System will be the first large-scale CSP-based technology in the world to provide multiple energy streams – heating, fresh water and electricity – for horticultural activities; an innovative and sustainable approach dreamed up by Adelaide-based outfit Sundrop Farms.

The company originally used finance from the Clean Energy Finance Corporation to develop a prototype of its proprietary closed-loop farming system, in which is successfully grew tomatoes year-round, using only sunlight and seawater.

In December 2014, Sundrop secured $100 million of funding from leading global private equity investor KKR, allowing it to proceed with plans to expand the prototype into a 20-hectare facility, including the CSP tower plant.

Sundrop has also secured a 10-year exclusive contract with Coles for the supply of tomatoes, creating jobs for up to 175 people.

Aalborg’s custom-build CSP plant will heat the greenhouses in wintertime and on cold summer nights, provide fresh water by desalinating seawater drawn from the nearby Spencer Gulf (5km from the site) and run a steam turbine to produce electricity.

“This groundbreaking project proves a new platform to address major global energy challenges. The construction progresses well and we are looking forward to harvest the first sunrays in the second half of 2016” – says Svante Bundgaard, CEO of Aalborg CSP.

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