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Hewson’s Solastor promises world’s cheapest 24/7 solar power

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Further detail has been released on the proposed development of a “baseload” solar thermal and storage power plant in Port Augusta, South Australia, using Australian made technology owned by NSW-based company Solastor.

The ambitious 170MW, $1.2 billion project was officially launched in Adelaide on Tuesday by Solastor’s high profile chairman, John Hewson, who said he was confident the technology could produce the lowest-price 24/7 solar power in the world.

And according to Solastor, this low cost of the technology, along with its “dispatchability”, makes it “the ideal technology” to replace the almost 20,000 megawatts of coal-fired power plants “that will inevitably be phased out over the next 10 to 20 years,” as well as diesel generation systems such as those used in remote communities, islands and mine sites.

In Australia alone, the company says, there could be a market for 400 Solastor plants.

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Hewson – an economist and one-time leader of the federal Liberal Party who advises the current Coalition government on climate change and the low-carbon economy – says the proposed Port Augusta plant will be funded mostly by private investors (he has also suggested that one bank has offered to fund “the lot”) with possible added support from the Clean Energy Finance Corporation and ARENA.

“Basically, we don’t see that there will be any difficulty financing it,” Hewson said in interviews on Tuesday.

“This is world-class. We think this is something we can roll out not only across Australia but internationally. It’s Australian technology, it gives Australia a real edge … in actually being able to turn sunlight into effective baseload energy,” he said.

“We’re going to break (the Port Augusta project) into two stages: 50MW in the winter and 80MW in the summer is stage one, then repeat it stage two. So that’s $530 million to raise in the first stage and we’re pretty confident that we’re well-advanced in terms of that financing.”

Hewson said the plant, which would have a capacity of 110MW in winter and 170MW in summer, would use technology that had been proven in China, at a small pilot plant built in the Jiangsu province (pictured below).

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The main advantage of the Solastaor system, he argues, is its storage capabilities, which allow it to provide 24/7, “dispatchable” clean energy – a feature of all solar thermal technology that makes it a favourite technology for 100 per cent renewable scenarios.

But unlike many other solar thermal technologies, which use molten salt for storage, Solastor uses a “high purity” block of graphite – 10 tonnes per storage tank, per 24 metre tower – which can be heated to a maximum of 800°C and store “effective energy” for up to a week, according to the company, depending on thermal losses and the energy draw-down rate of the system.

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In an extensive Q&A on the project and technology released by Solastor at the launch, the company appears to suggest that its graphite storage systems are safer that their molten salt counterparts, which it associates with bird deaths and fires. (Giles Parkinson examines this and other possibly questionable claims in his feature article today, here.)

In terms of bird deaths, this is likely a reference to the US Crescent Dunes CSP tower plant which, as was reported here last year, caused the death of 115 birds during testing of the heliostats in standby position, when they are not aimed at the tower receiver but somewhere in the air. The problem – basically, the “halo” of intense sun rays reflected by 3,000 heliostats killed the birds as they flew through it – was, however, promptly resolved by SolarReserve engineers.

Solastor says this is unlikely to happen with its technology, which is modular – so rather than pointing thousands of heliostats at one central tower, clusters 86 sun-tracking heliostats around each tower (as you can see in the Chinese example pictured above). It will have 1700 such towers in a facility of the size proposed for Port Augusta.

Another claimed advantage of the modular design, according to Solastor, is that plants can be constructed on uneven terrain, making their location more flexible.

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The company says it is aims to build a five-tower, 1MW demonstration plant by the end of this year, which it would connect to the grid via the existing connection at Port Augusta.

And if it succeeds, and expands the plant to a 170MW facility, Solastor says it would be able to power more than 200,000 homes and fill the gap left when the last of South Australia’s coal-fired power stations shut down in Port Augusta last month.

“Solar thermal heat storage and power generation is more cost-effective than solar photovoltaic or wind energy, which require expensive electric battery support to provide uniform power delivery,” Hewson said at the launch on Tuesday.

According to Solastor’s calculations, the price for power from one of its power stations will be approximately 12c/kWh, including generation and storage, which will then fall to 6c/kWh once financing costs are paid and then 4c/kWh in the second half of the facility’s 50-year life.

“We can produce the lowest price 24/7 solar power in the world and we’re confident of that,” Hewson told Indaily.com.

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Hewson also argues that solar thermal generation is cleaner than existing solar PV and wind generation, which he says “often require fossil fuelled generation support to level out intermittent power delivery to the grid.

“With this new facility, South Australia will be able to increase its renewable energy capacity and reduce its dependence on power imports from Victoria, after having lost approximately 25 per cent of its baseload power supply due to the recent closure of the Port Augusta coal fired power station,” Hewson said at the launch.

Meanwhile, Solastor is working to generate bi-partisan support “at all levels of government” for the project – federal environment minister Greg Hunt was front and centre at the launch, as was his   Labor counterpart Mark Butler and representatives of the SA government – as well as support from the local community.



The latter may be more difficult than it sounds, considering the proposed 110MW-170MW plant would include 1,700 24 metre tower modules.

According to the aforementioned Q&A, each module occupies a footprint of 2,400m2, and with allowances for access, the power station and associated facilities, would amount to approximately 4 modules per hectare.

A “typical” large-scale Solastor power station capable of providing 50MW in winter and 80MW in summer – so half the size of the plant proposed for Port Augusta – would be made up of 780 modules and occupy approximately 200 hectares.  

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  • DevMac

    One thing not lacking in South Australia is wide open spaces that don’t seem to be much good for anything else (other than ‘being what they naturally are’).

    • barrie harrop

      Lots of rare and endagered bird specieses that might get fried.

      • DevMac

        From Giles’ article on the same topic in regards to the molten salt solar towers:

        Take, for instance, the claims about rival big solar towers being “bird killers”, that molten salt storage technology is a “fire risk”, and that it relies heavily on gas generation.

        Such claims are plucked from the fossil fuel doubters of renewable energy and the press that support them. But both the SolarReserve 110MW facility in Nevada, and Gemasolar’s long running 20MW facility in Spain – the only two large scale operating solar tower and storage plants – disprove these claims.

        Giles’ article also says that this graphite block method generates less heat energy per tower.

        • barrie harrop

          However, the chart is not a perfect data source. The estimates weren’t taken in any standardized way, and some of the studies were outdated. It’s also not an apples-to-apples comparison, since fossil fuels supply way more power to U.S. homes than renewable sources. So we combined the chart with data from the U.S. Energy Information Administration to calculate how many birds each type of power kills for every 1,000 megawatt-hours of power that’s generated. It’s just a back-of-the-envelope calculation, but here’s what we found:
          http://www.popsci.com.au/science/energy/thermal-solar-towers-are-vaporising-birds,400783

          • Alastair Leith

            You truly are an embarrassment to science and statistics, Barrie. It was a one-off incident and they dealt with it, but you haven’t seemed to continuing on with your disinformation campaign.

            Which endangered species are at risk and how will they cope with the 5-8º C of global warming that we are tracking towards?

          • barrie harrop

            Enough of your misleading views.
            Some facts for a change.
            March 16th 2016-WSJ “Ivanpah Solar Plant May Be Forced to Shut Down
            Federally backed project asks California regulators for more time to sort out its problems”
            http://www.wsj.com/articles/ivanpah-solar-plant-may-be-forced-to-shut-down-1458170858

          • Roger Brown

            So , who owns the wsj ? Rupert misleading Murdoch since 2007 . Sorry , no facts after 2007 , just misleading articles for spreading lies .

          • Neville Bott

            Time to post the bird death chart that comes out each time some conservative suddenly decides that birds can be used to help their anti renewable propaganda

          • Chris Fraser

            A biiiig red flag goes up with the mention of WSJ …

          • Facts? Why would you want facts to get in the way of your view of the world? You’ve made up your mind and reality has no place in it.
            First off, Ivanpah solved the low bird death problem – zero birds die now.
            http://reneweconomy.com.au/2015/one-weird-trick-prevents-bird-deaths-at-solar-tower-power-plants-98846
            And it would appear Ivanpah have been given the reprieve they asked for.
            http://www.marketwatch.com/story/ivanpah-solar-plant-wins-reprieve-from-california-regulators-2016-03-17?siteid=bigcharts&dist=bigcharts

          • barrie harrop

            My mail on the ground is you are wrong.

          • And yet in your reply you’ve proved me right.

          • barrie harrop

            Yes it will be an interesting technology race in Pt. Augusta, USA-Solar Reserve v Solarstor from the backblocks of Sydney,spent $5m on R&D that’s unproven–now want to bid for $1.2bn project and Solar Reserve with US$2.8bn of capital deployed ,fully scalable contracts in play for over 480 MW v Solarstor -nil energy output to grid after 5 years of development.

          • Well I’m not going to be down on someone for having a go. The world would never progress at all if we were to follow your logic. The Wright Brothers would never have tried, nor Edison, Ford, Disney, Jobs or Musk.

          • TatuSaloranta

            And that article has exactly nothing to do with bird deaths, but rather on production efficiency that has been below what was included in the PPA.

            As to bird deaths, a good debunking can be found f.ex here:

            http://www.renewableenergyworld.com/articles/2014/09/for-the-birds-how-speculation-trumped-fact-at-ivanpah.html

            but in general operators have figured out ways to remove streamers. And even if the original worst-case behavior was not resolved bird deaths would still be lower than what regular buildings & domestic cats can do.

            Further, whereas Ivanpah presents about worst-case scenario for power tower with salt CSP, there are others now operational that work better: Tonopah (Crescent Dunes) in US, and another power tower in South Africa.

  • Alan S

    Oh dear – looks like Solarstor have some nifty marketing execs on their books. Surely the infrasound generated by the molten salt system scares birds away and stops them being fried!

    • john

      No molten salt mind

  • solarguy

    Hewson’s claims that wind and solar often need FF to level out power to the grid is just utter bullshit! And the bullshit statement, “must use expensive batteries’. Well John, those technologies can use thermal storage too! If needed on a cost basis. And don’t forget pumped hydro.
    I do like the Solastor CST technology and other CST like Solar Reserve, but the truth is wind and PV are going to provide a lot going forward, with or without storage!

  • Brunel

    12c/kWh eh?

    Well the Dubai solar power prices are US 3c/kWh. And if batteries are less than US 8c/kWh, there is no point in building CSP.

    But we have no idea how cheap batteries are today. Hope Dubai or India does a battery auction soon.

    • Mike Shurtleff

      $190/kWh production cost for Tesla Lithium Ion PACKs.
      $145/kWh cost for LGChem Lithium Ion Cells.
      Low cost battery storage is just a matter of time to scale production.

      • TatuSaloranta

        Keep in mind however that many battery storage systems have much shorter lifespan (5 years for EVs?), so during lifetime of a plant batteries may need to be replaced multiple times. So cost calculation is bit more complicated. Question of storage capacity is also interesting one: how many hours makes sense for speciic plant: 4? 10? 20?
        This matters because for PV generation is cheap, whereas for CSP storage is often (relativel) cheaper.

        So it gets bit tricky to really calculate fair LCoE to compare. It is true however that since battery storage costs are forecast to go down faster than CSP it may well be that building “expensive” battery storage now may be ok since the very first replacement will be much cheaper (and possibly use then longer-lasting replacements).

        Still… seems reasonable to do at least pilot projects with alternatives, to hedge bets. Future progress is notoriously difficult to predict.

  • Cooma Doug

    This is infinatly better then any fossil fuel or nuclear generation. However I have some thoughts that are a tad negative.
    Good thing is collecting clean energy.
    Bad thing is a retention of base load concept.
    When I do the numbers it costs 400% more then gathering the energy at my home roof and storing on site.
    So we are dealing with provision of industrial loads. Again I see a cost problem at this point when compared to wind and other options.
    Tell me where Im wrong please.

    • Mike Shurtleff

      Battery storage is going to enable 24/7 use of Solar PV. In areas with poor Wind resources and good Solar resources this will be important. It will also be important for distributed residential and commercial Solar PV. South Australia needs this now.

  • Gary Rowbottom

    The energy supply requirement is always going to include a mix of technologies, wind and PV (with or without batteries) will be a fair part of that (already is in SA). CST with storage absolutely should be part of this mix too. Solar Reserves technology and performance is solid/proven. The Solarstor technology looks very good and the cost basis very attractive. Some of the comparison data to molten salt systems I would agree is off base as has been commented on, but that does not detract from the base case of Solastor. There is room for both near Port Augusta, whether both can progress commercially I do not know, but that is what I would like to see happen. Solastor’s proposal when complete would provide 1250 GWh/yr, the current Solar Reserve proposal 500 GWh, DP Energy’s wind/pv 770 GWh, there’s three other PV proposals totalling at least 400 MW capacity, so should be able to do at around 700 GWh at a guess. My calculator says that is 3220 GWh/yr. Northern Power Station generated between 2000-3000 GWh over the last 5 years, but has generated up to around 4,400 GWh/yr at its peak. Also the 1055 or so MW of capacity the above represents is a reasonable bite of the 6000 MW capacity needed to be built for the RET between now and 2020. So bring it on, bring it to Port Augusta. And enough already of the bird issue, with either technology, old problem, now solved with the one large tower type. Some birds are always going to fly into things, like humans drive into things. Was quite common to find bits of birds around the power statins at Port Augusta too.

    • Mike Shurtleff

      I disagree. Effects on birds aside. CST is significanlty more expensive than Solar PV. I think it always will be. (Although I don’t like to say “always” because who knows what the future will bring?) Cost of helio stats is already higher than PV panels, because of 2-axis tracking required …and then you have to build the thermal plant. CST uses water for cooling too. Clean water is more of a supply problem than clean energy. The latter is easy and already happening.
      Very low cost battery storage is coming in the next 5 years. Production just needs to scale. Again, already happening in Australia. No, not that low cost YET!

      • John Lydon

        It all looks good in theory but don’t get sucked in. Andrew Thalers comments are very informative. REGARDLESS of desk top numbers, the questions to be asked are “has the technology been proven by Solastor”? To date, it’s looking pretty dodgy. They have been harping on about a development in Cyprus which never eventuated, the Cooma project has been a massive failure and work that they have been doing with their Helioststats trying to lightweight them using old Armacel technology is a recipe for disaster – PET film glued to EPS in an outdoor environment is madness.
        There is a need for Australia to be innovative, agile and think outside the square. There is NOT a need for a company wasting taxpayer money and misleading investors thus creating further bad tastes about new technologies. If this was so good it would have been funded a long time ago!

  • Ian

    How much of the public purse will be used in this Port Augusta solar thermal with storage scheme? There seem to be a lot of promises involved in Solarstor’s proposal. Cheapest 24/7 baseLOAD power ,no gas or FF back-up required, &c, &c. Can we perhaps have more background on the other projects that they have commissioned. The one in Jiangsu seems the biggest so far to have been commissioned, although getting this information on the Internet eludes me. Maybe others have found more information. Solarstor’s website hopefully does not say a lot about them! Check it out solarstor.com.au . As German tourists often ask: ” in English, how do you say ‘ due diligence'”.

  • Rurover

    Seems a bit ironic that this is Carbon based energy.(ie Graphite). At least they’e not burning it! (Well, not quite).

  • Andrew Thaler

    Time for a truth bomb.. Sorry to John Hewson. He and I had a chat on Saturday morning at the Goulburn community energy launch.. where he also spruiked this solar thermal project.
    Solarstor have been my industrial neighbour in Cooma for around 7 years or so now- I own the ugly scrap yard next door to it. They have chewed through Millions and Millions of grant dollars $5 mil of country energy, kicked them off after their forays into ‘clean-coal’ with Bob Lloyd (before he was booted out).. and with very little output of practical use. Their original tower unit used graphite from Aluminium refining anodes (full of fluorine) and did not work as promised. I watched them smash several generations of heliostats (mirrors) and also burn holes on the fence between us (very not happy about that). My workers laughed one day when they melted the bottom of the heat collector and had raining molten-metal onto the ground.. not very safe.
    They built their tower in the wrong place from their DA and we are lucky it didn’t fall over in the strong winds we get.
    The Lake Cargelligo system they built,, comprising 5 or so tower-heliostat fields, which was later named Graphite Energy.. has (to my knowledge) NEVER produced and exported a single kWh to the grid. It is a large white elephant. This company name was changed to ‘isolator’ just after this white elephant was built and it is my information that they cut0and-run from the project when it failed.
    The Cooma development site has NEVER raised steam and produced a single kWh of electricity to export to the grid.. and for the money involved I see this as an enormous failing.
    My 20kW solar array on the roof of my factory has done more to reduce carbon emissions that Solarstor have.
    Even more weird is the link between John Hewson and this company.. and the hype around this promise of cheap energy 24/7 for SA.. My thoughts on this are that Steve Hollis conned Hewson into investing and the only way out for Hewson is to pump up the project ‘potential’ and then dump his investment in it while the hype is bubbling and walk away before it fails, like their other projects.
    Solarstor have been one continual disappointment.. invest in it at your own risk. I’ll stick to PV thanks.

    • Chris Fraser

      Andrew thanks for the detailed alternative stories. I’m sure the new tech has to have some growing pains if we don’t opt for an off-the-shelf solution from the Spanish or Americans.

      • Brendan Lee

        The problem is that a high risk project like this can bring down renewables as a whole. If it doesn’t work, it will be the posterchild for conservatives everywhere to point out that ‘renewables don’t work’. We should be investing smaller amounts of money proving this technology first rather than throwing $500m at it from the get go. Very risky.

        • Chris Fraser

          Hi Brendan, perhaps balance that with Ozzie inventive style. Imagine Cooma Council trying to deal with a burning fence … probably thought they were dealing with weapons of mass destruction.

    • barrie harrop

      Why am I not surprised.

  • Brendan Lee

    On numbers alone, I am very dubious. At $1.2 billion for 170MW, this is $7 per watt. Right now, you can purchase, install and have up and running a 24/7 baseload capable solar PV plus battery system for about 2/3 of this cost and falling. There is no technology to develop, no unknowns about impacts to wildlife, and most importantly, very little risk that the technology won’t work, or the system won’t perform etc. There is a lot of risk associated with this project and I don’t believe that they can match the hype they are trying to generate.

    • Mitch

      Does your costing take into account lifespan differences between batteries and this tech? i.e cost per watt hour as apposed to per watt?

      • Brendan Lee

        Even if you had to add more batteries every few years the advances in battery tech would mean that this periodic augmentation will get cheaper and cheaper. I would like to see a proper lifecycle analysis on this CST system.

        • Mitch

          You’re probably right, it will be interesting to see what happens with battery prices. I’m about to purchase an LG Chem Resu for my home, which right now isn’t economical but I suspect we’ll see prices come down significantly in the next few years.

          • Brendan Lee

            It’s going to be interesting. When you look at the cost of the raw materials that go into a battery pack, they are actually around 60% of the production cost, so unless we see massive falls in the cost of the commodity items, I don’t think we will actually see the prices fall to the levels that the hype is telling us. On the other hand, there are big improvements to be made in the other balance of system items such as inverters and installation materials which will be where the most gains are achieved…
            Good luck with the RESU. I haven’t heard anything negative about them which I guess is positive…

          • Mitch

            Well we’re seeing a big ramp up in Lithium mining and a lot of investment in companies that are mining Lithium so I would expect to see big decreases in it’s price as we get economies of scale. In terms of other raw materials I’ve got no idea.

          • Brendan Lee

            And that’s great, but Lithium is actually only about 2% of the materials in the battery. There’s a stack of graphite, aluminium, copper, nickel, cobalt and other stuff in there as well. The aggregate cost of all of these will affect battery prices over the next few years.

    • barrie harrop

      Yes you are quite right PV solar cost will be down 20% this year, wind turbines down by 10% ,with next generation solar PV will be much more affordable and efficient, with no wild claims like Hewsons .Batteries price slide is on so with next 2 or 3 years the industry paybacks will make mass market adoption viable.

    • Mike Shurtleff

      Solar PV + Batteries have almost no impact on birds.
      Solar PV much cheaper than CSP. Batteries will be there in 5 years or so. Battery tech is already cheaper, production still has to scale.

  • Robert Comerford

    Sad to see the denigrating of competitors, such actions do this project and its proponents no good. Best leave that sort of crap to the Murdoch media and their followers.
    By all means build a a demo site in SA and let us see the results. If it is good then money will follow.

  • Dennis Abbott..

    Build a demonstration plant, solar thermal with storage will be an important sector of our RE mix.

  • Mike

    “…the company appears to suggest that its graphite storage systems are safer that their molten salt counterparts, which it associates with bird deaths and fires.”

    Umm what? haha. The medium of storage has nothing to do with avian deaths.

    I’d like to know more about the graphite storage though! Sounds really interesting. Maybe if the article spent less time marketing and more time explaining the science, then people would be able to actually get behind the project.

  • Gary Rowbottom

    The science/tech is actually very interesting, and promising, and has been developed significantly from their earlier work. Cost between the two technologies it not as great as painted, and of course Solar Reserve has been there done that credentials behind them. Proof of the pudding is in the eating. Build them both, the Solastor 1MW demo plant can happen quite quickly. I hope this doesn’t degenerate into a slagging match and encourage the general CST naysayers to have a field day.