Collinsville looks to 50MW plant combining PV, solar thermal, gas

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The owners of the Collinsville coal fired power station in northern Queensland are planning to close and replace the ageing 180MW station with a “clean energy park” that will the see a combination of a solar PV array, a solar thermal installation, and a gas-fired booster – all combined to deliver 50MW of baseload power.

The fine details of the plan were revealed today by the power station’s owner, Ratch Australia. RenewEconomy had previously revealed plans for a solar PV array, and it now turns out that this will be a 20MW solar farm, with a 30MW solar thermal installation using linear fresnel technology owned by Novatec Solar, majority owned by Australia’s Transfield Services.

Ratch also wants to install a gas-fired turbine – either a new one or a re-commissioned one from the existing Collinsville station, to provide flexibility and back-up, and to deliver what development manager Anil Nangia described as 50MW of “baseload power.” He said using gas would be cheaper than current options for solar thermal storage.

The plans will mark quite a transformation for the Collinsville plant, which was once bought for a single dollar by Transfield, upgraded and recommissioned, and which had been put forward for a 150MW solar thermal plant under the now defunct Solar Flagships program.

The money from the Solar Flagships is now being managed by the Australian Renewable Energy Agency, and it has awarded $2.5 million to Ratch under its Emerging Renewables Program to investigate to what extent old coal-fired turbines can be re-purposed for solar hybrid installations.

Nangia said the study would take nearly two years, but the company would go ahead with planning approvals in the meantime. It hoped to reach financial close on a solar thermal hybrid project – with a new or repurposed turbine – in February 2015. By that time, it hoped to have the 20MW solar PV plant either completed or well under construction. It would operate the PV plant on its own until the solar thermal hybrid component was completed.

Federal Resources and Energy Minister Martin Ferguson, in announcing the grant, said the knowledge gained through the study will help accelerate the deployment of concentrating solar thermal in Australia through hybrid projects, which he said would help overcome the challenges of early deployment of concentrating solar thermal.

“Such information will include the overall technical feasibility of converting thermal coal fired power stations to solar thermal plants, its costs, the solar yield, network connection and other issues,” Ferguson said in a statement.

Nangia said Ratch had set aside two separate areas for the PV and solar thermal components. Both would take advantage of the connections that already existed at the site.

He said when a pre-feasibility study was completed 12 months ago, the cost of solar PV and solar thermal was about equal, but solar PV costs had fallen dramatically since then, and were now around $120-$150/MWh.

He said Ratch hoped to deliver the solar thermal component at under $200/MWH, which would still be a significant cost reduction.

“This study is going to help us understand whether it is worthwhile to use an old coal plant (for solar),” he told RenewEconomy.

Ferguson also announced three other solar research projects, including:

– a study by Ipsos Social Research Institute into the social licence to operate for utility-scale solar installations, which will receive $153,388 to investigate levels of community awareness and attitudes towards large-scale solar installations.

– A study by the Monica Oliphant research institute into funding models for community-owned solar projects. The study receives
$15,000 to investigate how renters, low income earners, or those who live in houses that aren’t suitable for solar photovoltaic panels to be involved in renewable energy projects..

– a study into the System Advisor Model (SAM) for Australian Concentrating Solar Power (CSP) stakeholders 
by the Australian Solar Thermal Energy Association to work with the National Renewable Energy Laboratory to modify its model to suit the project economics of Australian market conditions.  

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  • Jenny

    This proposal leaves my spin and tokenism alarm ringing. The whole point of utility scale concentrating solar thermal power is to utilize heat storage so that it can feed the grid 24/7. This proposal reminds me of the ill fated Solar Dawn project at Chinchilla that was essentially a solar thermal tack on to a CSG plant.If we are going to use solar power essentially for daytime peak loads then we are better off using distributed rooftop PV within areas of consumption to reduce the load on an creaking high voltage grid rather than additional peaking resources on that grid.

    Martin Ferguson’s enthusiasm is hardly surprising given his obvious lack of enthusiasm for renewable energy and his similarly obvious enthusiasm for propping up old king coal of the nineteenth century.

    We need to use solar thermal to retire coal fired stations, not to resuscitate them.

    • Giles Parkinson

      I dont think they are trying to extend the use of the coal fired station at all in this case – maybe just use some of the equipment. It’s true though that solar hybrids may be used to extend life of some coal or gas fired generation, but some argue that it’s the cheapest way of getting the technology deployed in the first place. I’d imagine there will be a raging debate about that. Chinchilla was supposed to be a 250MW solar thermal with a small tack on of gas, actually, about 15 per cent. The nearby Kogan Creek has a tack on of the areva’s linear fresnel onto a coal fired generator, as novatec does now at liddell.

      • Jenny

        I don’t know what solar thermal technology they are proposing here but unless it is a power tower array that can generate temperatures on a par with burning coal, the existing turbines are useless using solar alone. This suggest to me they are planning on using solar to preheat water that is then heated further by gas. This is lower emissions than gas alone at the power station but does not factor in the fugitive emissions of the production of CSG nor its escalating costs. Even then the solar component is simply available for daytime peak loads.

        As for the argument about costs. Yes gas burners are cheaper than a molten salt heat storage system. However let’s not pretend this is experimental technology because it is not. Although the technology is still being developed and refined, it works at an industrial scale now. To exclude the use of heat storage is to incorporate massive built in obsolescence into the project. In any case although gas is a cheaper financial option in the short and just maybe intermediate term, it is more expensive in terms of its contribution to climate change.

        I also suggest that there may be more than a tad of post hoc rationalization in these arguments driven by hostility to renewable projects that undercut the “baseload” rationale of fossil fuels from some factions within the federal government from Martin Ferguson and the AWU.

        I would suggest that a utility scale solar thermal power station with heat storage designed to fully replace a coal fired power station would have difficulties in getting support from the federal government, and would have a snowflake’s chance in a coal fire with the coalition.

  • The economics of solar thermal at Collinsville will always be dicey while people keep on selling as baseload power. Solar thermal (or PV for that matter) will not compete with large baseload power stations for a long time. The Collinsville power station is connected to the coastal grid so it doesn’t need to be baseload to provide a reliable supply to Collinsville.
    The big attraction of solar thermal with heat storage is that it could be run to replace the high cost dirty power used primarily to handle the late afternoon/early evening peak in demand with any excess used to replace expensive power at other times of the day.
    With this in mind it makes more sense to use concentrated solar thermal tower with molten salt heat storage rather than linear fresnel technology. Molten salt heat storage provides a high enough temperature to run a modern steam turbine without any need for any additional heating.
    It makes sense to use one of the existing steam turbines to reduce costs.