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Solar towers on fast-track after Coalition tips in extra $110m

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Senator Nick Xenophon expects the deal he struck to pass the federal Coalition’s tax cuts on Friday should guarantee that Australia’s first large-scale solar thermal plant begins construction before the next election.

Xenophon got the Coalition government to deliver on its pre-election promise of facilitating solar thermal by agreeing to “fast-track” the tender process and commit $110 million of concessional finance – over and above any funding from CEFC or ARENA.

Crescent-Dunes-Solar-Energy-Project-SolarReserve-thermal-energy-storage-2

 

“The agreement is to help accelerate the development of a solar thermal plant or large-scale solar project at Port Augusta,” energy minister Josh Frydenberg said in a statement to RenewEconomy.

“The government will ask the CEFC and ARENA to formally call for proposals and assess those proposals for funding under their normal rules. An additional $110 million concessional loan will be available from the government if required to accelerate and secure delivery the project.”

The move was welcomed by S.A. premier Jay Weatherill, who confirmed that solar thermal was still in the running for the state government’s long running electricity tender, and could be helped by this initiative.

“Solar thermal firms are bidding for that contract … and that contract, together with the loan that they will get (from the federal government), puts them right in the running to win that contract,” Weatherill told ABC Radio

Finance minister Senator Mathias Cormann told the Senate late on Friday that the money would be delivered at a rate of 3 per cent – that is government bond rate plus 1 per cent.

“This now locks in a process to ensure it happens more quickly,” Cormann said.

“I have spelled out our commitment to accelerate and secure delivery of the solar thermal project in Port Augusta through a formal call for proposals through the Australian Renewable Energy Agency and the Clean Energy Finance Corporation.”

Although the actual policy is no different to that stated before the election – and largely ignored since – advocates of large-scale solar towers with molten salt storage say it is a significant step forward because it finally has a dollar figure.

Xenophon likes solar thermal, firstly because it is not wind energy (which he doesn’t like), but mostly because it is dispatchable – able to provide power at night, or 24/7, and to provide “inertia” and “synchronous” energy through its steam turbines.

“The solar thermal plant – a demonstration plant – effectively provides baseload power or, at the very least, intermediate and peaking power,” Xenophon said. (In fact, it can do all three, depending on its set-up).

“It will be a world-class demonstration in South Australia that will create a thousand jobs in its construction phase,” he told the Senate.

“These are all important issues and will show the rest of Australia that you can build baseload renewables, which are fundamental to dealing with issues of inertia and security of supply.”

Senator Xenophon said Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull had assured him the project “was a goer”, but there are a few hurdles to get across before then.

Firstly, the delivery is effectively out of the government’s hands as the final call will emerge from a tender process, and presumably more support from either the CEFC or ARENA, or both, but most importantly, a power purchase agreement with the South Australian government.

This appears to narrow the choice down to a single proposal –110MW solar tower and storage project in Port Augusta, proposed by SolarReserve.

The advantage it has over its other two rivals – the John Hewson-connected Solastor, now known as Port Augusta Graphite Energy, and Vast Solar – is that it has already built a project of this size, Crescent Dunes in Nevada, and is currently building another similar sized project in South Africa.

It is also speculated to be the only solar thermal project to have made the South Australian government’s shortlist to deliver 75 per cent of its electricity needs – something seemingly confirmed by Weatherill’s comments.

SolarReserve’s Daniel Thompson said on Friday that a long-term power purchase agreement was essential to make a first-of-its-type project work. PPAs were obtained for both the Nevada and South Africa projects.

On Monday, Thompson said: “The funding support announced by the Federal Government for a solar thermal project at Port Augusta is an incredible step in positioning this transformative project and technology to move forward.

“The funding contemplated will have a significant impact on reducing the power price from the project which will help to secure a long-term power contract, critical to the project moving forward.”

Thompson told the Large-Scale Solar 2017 conference co-hosted by RenewEconomy and Informa in Sydney on Monday that costs for the technology were coming down, and that while he couldn’t disclose the per MWh number SolarReserve was currently bidding for its Port Augusta project, he did confirm it was well “south of $150/MWh.”

Port Augusta solar advocates, who have been pushing for a solar power station to replace the two coal-fired generators that closed in the last few years, welcomed the news.

“For five years the community has put solar thermal in Port Augusta on the agenda and we hope last night’s deal acts as a circuit breaker to finally make on-demand solar thermal happen,” said Lisa Lumsden, spokesperson for Repower Port Augusta

It is calling for the federal and state governments to work together to deliver the solar thermal with storage in Port Augusta.

Mayor Sam Johnson agreed: “There was certainly a buzz around town because it’s no secret we’ve had a few bad shots in the arm in the last 18 months,’’ he told the Adelaide Advertiser.

“We’re looking for that positivity and we know we can deliver the next chapter.”

Labor, however, was not impressed, saying that all Xenophon had achieved was to get the government to “restate a promise” that both the Coalition and Labor had made pre-election.

They were also angry that Xenophon had backed down on his promise to insist on an emission intensity scheme – Labor’s prefered policy – before agreeing on any tax deal.

“Yet again Nick Xenophon has talked a big game and delivered bugger all for South Australia,” Labor energy spokesman Mark Butler told reporters.  

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  • Brunel

    “a thousand jobs in its construction phase” to be given to 457 visa staff?

    Surely they can tell us the cost of storage in this thing? So we can compare it to Tesla batteries.

    • humanitarian solar

      The mirrors can’t shine sunshine onto batteries, so in practice I think it would be necessary to compare the solar thermal project to a similar wind or solar project delivering power into batteries, supplying “baseload” power. I think we need to compare whole systems. Once the project cost becomes known, then I imagine that will be easy enough for our analysts to do.

      • Andrew Roydhouse

        Actually that is exactly what the mirrors do – shine sunlight onto the capture receptacle which is full of salt which is superheated. This is the storage device – it is storing heat NOT electricity.

        When electricity is needed the superheated salt is used to generate steam to drive turbines.

        https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Crescent_Dunes_Solar_Energy_Project

        The Crescent Dunes Solar Energy Project is a 110 megawatt (MW) net solar thermal power project with 1.1 gigawatt-hours of energy storage

        The molten salt circulates from the tower to a storage tank, where it is
        then used to produce steam and generate electricity. Excess thermal
        energy is stored in the molten salt and can be used to generate power
        for up to ten hours, including during the evening hours and when direct
        sunlight is not available.[4]
        The storage technology also eliminates the need for any backup fossil
        fuels, such as natural gas. Each heliostat is made up of 35 6×6 feet
        (1.8 m) mirror facets, yielding a heliostat overall usable area of 1,245
        square feet (115.7 m2). Total solar field aperture adds up to 12,882,015 square feet (1,196,778 m2).

        • Gary Rowbottom

          Thanks for the bit of detail on the heliostats Andrew. For Solar Reserve’s CST/storage plant proposed in Port Augusta, the proposed heliostat size is 96 m2 each, more of them that at Crescent dunes but total mirror field aperture a little below the figure above for Crescent Dunes. The Port Augusta project includes 8 hours full load storage (ie 880 MWh), as compared to the 10 hrs for Crescent Dunes.

        • Alastair Leith

          The main distinction between CST with Thermal Storage and RE + chemical batteries is that CST with storage can be cycled to a deep depth of discharge (0% I think) every day if the sunshine is there (it wont always be there of course). In fact it’s more economic to cycle it as much as possible and bid into the peak markets as much as possible. But who knows what kind of supply contract the SA government might want them on. Crescent Dunes goes into evening shoulder of Las Vegas market unsubsidized. Chemical batteries like lithium ion would be flogged to death in a few years taking them to minimum discharge they are rated at every day.

          • Andrew Roydhouse

            You may be confusing the use of batteries/storage for a house vs a utility scale project.

            A house wants to use the power rather than gird it due to the price differential.

            A large utility-scale project wants to maximise profits which is not necessarily the same as cycling the battery every day.

            The LCOE for a storage project (Li ion or salt or whatever) takes into account how many cycles the storage will last for – it is an apples with apples financial analysis not a Fed Govt Apples with Fig one.

            A li ion has (warranted) around 10 years of 1 x daily cycling.

            Have a look at the current power generation widget (top right of any reneweconomy article). Watch what happens once dolar generation starts to dip. NSW hydro kicks in only once the afternoon electricity price has jumped above a threshold figure. Any storage facility would operate in a similar fashion – that is why Gas Peaking PLant operators are spending so much lobbying against changes to the 30 minute rule AND any allowance for batteries/storage.

            IT kills their ability to keep accidentily having turbines mysteriously go offline and then earn up to $14,000 per MWh generated on the other turbines. Curiously enough they make significantly greater profits with a fraction of the gas cost – go figure!

          • wideEyedPupil

            I get the difference between arbitrage and storage for domestic consumption behind the meter, thanks. I’m surprised if warranty for Li Ion is once a day to full discharge every day for ten years, I’m pretty sure Tesla standby back-up offering before they rolled the two products into one had nothing of the sort. And a warranty doesn’t cover deteriorated battery but still working but at 50% capacity does it?

          • wideEyedPupil

            Still maintain that molten salt storage has a deep cycling capacity robustness that is superior to li ion. just replace the salts if required. Same with flow batteries, just replace the liquid electrolyte (or anodes/cathodes) to restore to brand new. Can’t do that with lith ion.

          • Andrew Roydhouse

            Sorry but your assumptions do not match the T&Cs of the actual warranty.

            The cost calculations (LCOE) take into account the exact operating terms offered and the exact periods/levels of discharge/cycles etc.

            Molten salt has its advantages but not for a home and for utility scale it has some disadvantages (speed of response).

            For speed of response – Li ion batteries (any battery realy) has the speed advantage as it is not heating up to run a turbine to create electricity. It simply discharges it will milli-seconds delay.

            It is a horses-for-courses issue. In some circumstances molten slat is a btter choice and in others Li ion.

            Both threaten the existing generators ability to rort the system.

          • wideEyedPupil

            You’re missing the point. I wasn’t comparing LCOE alone. As Dylan McConnell formerly at Melb Energy Institute (uni melb) points out LCOE is a poor metric for comparing storage especially with generation technologies in a high renewables penetration grid.

            Yes batteries can respond on the micro-second time interval. Never said they couldn’t. That’s great for synthetic intertia and fast frequency response and it already beats spinning reserve coal to do it on cost and carbon abatement. But the energy capacity to run those batteries seven hours into the night at full power capacity becomes very expensive. That’s where solar thermal has an edge. In was built in Brazil with no subsidies out compeating fossils because fossils are imported there and expensive. It’s powering the evening shoulder in Las Vegas unsubsidised too. I agree it’s horses for courses. But solar thermal and PHES both compare well to batteries on current costs. Solar thermal worh storage has demonstrated that it to would have a significant learning curve like pv and batteries if deployed in a much larger capacity (currently it accounts for less than 1% of solar energy produces in the world and almost zero in Australia (powering desal and greenhouse climate control to grow tomatoes in SA near port Augusta)).

      • Brunel

        You could compare the cost of solar thermal with no molten salt against the cost of solar thermal with molten salt.

        • Gary Rowbottom

          You would get a reasonable idea of the storage component cost by scaling from the feasibility study done by Alinta, their reports should be still available vis ARENA website. Remember though, their study was based on 50 MW capacity, 15 hours storage I believe was their optimum point for storage, and their overall LCOE $201/MWh whereas already that figure has dropped a fair bit.

          • Brunel

            Could we get molten salt storage via heat pumps that are powered by photovoltaic solar panels!

          • Gary Rowbottom

            Dunno, to be truthful I am neither smart nor brave enough to blaze a trail myself in these things, I jump on the bandwagons of other brave souls who have considered and acted on those types of vexatious conundrums, and developed a technology to a point of technical success and at least close to commercial success too. But to apply a bit of my technical officer thinking – to heat molten salt to it’s useful temp of 565 deg C or so, would take a lot of electrical power if you did it that way, with all the inefficiencies and diminishing returns in PV / heat energy conversion, whereas the sun does that virtually for free, once you have built it via all those lovely jobs that is.

          • Alastair Leith

            Would be an unconventional heat pump to go to 560º C+. But you can store heat in various materials, molten salts being one, steam being another that Dr Lovegrove has mentioned in the past, and possibly investigated when he was at ANU. The point of using heat storage is that is so efficient, only losing 1º C a day in these plants. But there is big inefficiency in flashing water into steam and driving a turbine. So I imaigine PV+Chemcials batteries (perhaps not Lithium Ion but Flow or Graphene) in a few years would be cheaper than PV—>heatpump—>thermal Storage—>turbine. If it isn’t already.

          • Brunel

            Chemical storage has the advantage of avoiding transmission losses.

          • wideEyedPupil

            Energy loses in chemical storage (state of the art commercial lithium ion) are greater than transmission loss from CBD of Melbourne to La Trobe Valley! (or a closer PHES system location). 😉

          • Brunel

            Latrobe Valley? You want coal power?

    • Gary Rowbottom

      “Peaking at a max of 1000 on site during the construction” which is expected at 30 months. Around 50 op/mtce jobs for 25 years or so. It is not their policy to use 457 labour unless their isn’t an alternative, as I understand – this question was asked when they came to Port Augusta to talk to the community last September. They sure won’t all be from Port Augusta though, we would not be able to supply anywhere near that many just from Port Augusta (and there will be requirements for rare special skills/qualifications, for the build). I am very keenly interested in the jobs aspect, and will be following that closely. They have stated their build cost as $650 million. Total energy output per year of 480 GWh, to match the tender (I think looking at the entire SA Government usage), at max peak capacity of 110 MW. That 480 GWh includes 8 hours storage at the full load capacity of 110 MW at the design conditions. Remember the Tesla or any other battery is just storage, you take say 115 MWh out of the grid when surplus is available and get back 100 MWh at a different time. To compare apples with apples you need to include that 115 MWh of generation needed to charge that 100 MW/100MWh battery. Plus, the batteries won’t last 25 years or so (the minimum life of a CST/Storage plant). Plus there is economic value to the nation in the Australian job content, to be compared amongst technologies for a better overall value for money to Australia analysis, as it should be done in my opinion. Not saying don’t have something just because it is a bit dearer sticker price, so totally not against battery systems, in general I like the way the talk is, a bit of a number of different technologies. Will like it even better when these things actually exist!

      • Brunel

        There was no such thing as a 457 visa before 1996. Now they are given to electricians and all kinds of entry level positions. Outrageous.

        Mirrors can be installed by Aussies. Ditto tanks, pipes, boilers, poles.

        • Gary Rowbottom

          Yeah, not a big fan. Quite accepting of people moving to Australia, but the 457 issue seems to be used to give them an unfair advantage. Or maybe more correctly the companies that use them when there are Aust citizens that can do those jobs exploit the system and the 457 workers themselves for their own greedy profit motives. Also what’s wrong with training our citizens (and immigrants that come here) in areas where skills gaps exist?

          • Alastair Leith

            All about driving wages down under guise of talent vacuum. Why aren’t they investing in training instead of running to 457s? and with massive downturn in WA mining construction phase I’d imaging there’ll be no shortage of engineering specialists in the offices and in the field.

        • Gary Rowbottom

          The numbers, and range of skills, needed to build, maintain and operate these plants has always been a major reason for my advocacy for these types of plants, outside of their value to an increasingly VRE energy system.

  • trackdaze

    More good news.

    The point is the coalition were likely to foot drag or stall on this and the senate has made them eat renewable pie.

    Morisons lump of coal is looking lonely indeed.

  • humanitarian solar

    I’m glad our politicians are finally getting comfortable, renewables with storage can provide baseload power.

  • humanitarian solar

    Wouldn’t it be cheaper for the SA government to give a PPA to the solar thermal project instead of buying the gas generators? The solar thermal project will get used, whereas the gas generators probably won’t, now that Mal has lobbied successfully for the gas companies to be mindful of their “moral” license in the community. With Origin supplying gas to Pelican Point and Origin buying the power, doesn’t this give the SA government the kind of security they were looking for? Doesn’t Pelican Point combined with the Port Augusta Solar Thermal project, fix SA’s system (and market) reliability issues?

  • humanitarian solar

    As far as I can see, with the combination of SA’s 100MW/100MWh battery FCAS and their Solar Thermal Project’s dispatchabe baseload power, this would appear to provide both fast frequency response and short term backup to their existing sun and wind power. Additionally Origin are supplying power to Pelican Point gas fired power station, so giving the PPA to the Solar Thermal Project appears a much cheaper and better option than buying their own gas generators. Perhaps this was SA’s plan along, to get the market moving one way or another. To me, they now have the means to put in place a plan for their short, medium and long term security and system reliability – as long as the AEMC acknowledges the countries democratic process has spoken with the Senate voting 100% in favour of the 5 minute rule.

    • Andrew Roydhouse

      The power companies were playing (or actually are still) chicken with State Govts as many State Govt generators are gaming the system to levy an unauthorised electricity tax in their states.

      The SA Govt, not owning major generation assets, could not play this game (unlike the Qld State Govt see 2015 NEM Annual Report) – so it decided to play chicken – we’re going to call their bluff, and at $50m a time to build a small gas peaking plant and battery project – about equal to the cost of one or two events to the state’s economy.

      Now add in this (hopefully the Feds don’t screw it up) Solar Thermal and gaming by SA or Vic generators will no longer work in SA once it is up and running. Should see the La Trobe Valley owners writing off $7 to 10bn in short order…

      • Alastair Leith

        Hopefully less brown coal-fired energy imports too!

    • Alastair Leith

      CSP wont be ready for next summer though. That gas plant is all about election insurance, and given the Federal Government’s spineless and opportunistic propaganda campaign they need insurance. They can always sell it second hand when the CSP is operational, although I doubt the capacity of just one plant would match the gas turbines they want (300MW? wasn’t it)

      • humanitarian solar

        Good idea, at least 5 smaller gas turbines could potentially be sold to big business later.

        • Gary Rowbottom

          The emergency gas generator could easily turn into a permanent generator to replace part of the ageing 1280 MW Torrens Island in not so many years time. Their policy hints at that I think, and I accept it as a pretty good idea on that basis – and absolutely there is a political angle, which is understandable really. There should be enough of that new gas generator or generators, appearing above ground to be a visual statement of doing something that everyone craves, so too the battery of course (but CST couldn’t in that time). The curly bit now is should they still bring in the hire diesel gen sets? Perhaps the new AEMO boss can lead the way to less expensive options, but I can understand the SA Government must make it as impossible as it can to run out of generation (and the interconnectors, at least Heywood, if not both, has to be assumed to not be available) – that seems to be a credible contingency.

  • Rob G

    Looks to me that the government wants a renewable energy feather in their cap. Currently that cap is pretty bare.

  • Kevfromspace

    One should hope their price is “south of $150/MWh,” especially given the size of this loan and also the support from the SA state government. Honestly, I would have thought their price would be $90/MWh or lower, given the price they gave in Chile in the recent tender process that they won. $63/MWh (USD, I presume) is an amazing price. With the great solar radiation in Port Augusta and the availability of grid connections, here’s hoping this project goes ahead!

    • Gary Rowbottom

      The solar resource in Chile is the world’s best, I think at least 20% better than ours. But ours (Port Augusta) is pretty good for sure. Of course our labour would be a fair bit higher than that in Chile, and with in the order of 60% country of build labour input, that would make a difference. Not sure if the price indication given takes account of any financial effect from the Energy Security Target – that would not have been known about of course when tenders went in in January this year. Got everything crossed that this happens.

      • Alastair Leith

        The first one will be magnitudes more expensive than the tenth say Solar Reesrve who’ve proposed a fleet of ten CSP and TS plants in the north of SA

        • Gary Rowbottom

          Yeah, building more will bring price down, and commitments like the 2 GW Nevada and the Shenhua 1GW MOU are the sort of things that allow maximisation of participation in the manufacturing supply chain for the country of build. Hint, Hint Australia.

    • Alastair Leith

      If it’s bidding into peaking market which regularly hits the $14,000/MWhr ceiling then even $150/MWhr is still money in the bank. As Dylan McConnell is want to say, LCOE is a poor metric of comparison for storage (and arbitrage for that matter). Especially when various storage technologies have completely different power output, energy capacity and changing characteristics.

  • howardpatr

    Good to see Turnbull FORCED to confront the anthropogenic climate change deniers in the LNP; he really needs spinal fusion to strengthen his back.

    • Durham 52

      We can only hope, though anyone with a memory longer than the last few minutes will know just what an promise or commitment from this current government is worth. I wonder if the mining lobby and the rabid ultra right are already tugging at Turnbull’s ear and reminding him of who his government is beholden to?

    • Alastair Leith

      This was all about the tax cut for the rich (and other who use businesses to avoid income tax). Xenophon needed something to show the voters he’s not a rusted on Liberal (which he pretty much proves himself to be every time). So Malcolm obliged with a few crumbs already notionally in LP policy and their election platform.

  • Alastair Leith

    While this is good news for Repower Port Augusta and SA in general, I’m inclined to agree with Mark Butler. Must be galling to see Xenophon as the lowest bidder to Govt requests for passage of legislation so often in the Senate. He’d turn for a box of hankies it seems.

    • Gary Rowbottom

      Yeah, I totally understand why Mark Butler and Labour would be a little unimpressed, the labour Government specifically made a pre-election commitment to $206 million grant program to establish CST, so if they had been elected, the path would have been quicker, and broader, and more effective, assuming there was still paths to address the need for long term PPA’s. Worth remembering who has the overall commitment and policies more effective in the necessary transition away from fossil fuels. For me it will take quite a bit to erase the image of the gormless guffawing accompanying the lacquered coal juggling stunt, and underlying exposure of where hearts lie that it tells, let alone the offensive laughing and ridiculing of SA, claiming a “failed experiment” when what SA is really doing is being a forward scout on a path all Australia and the world must follow, and we’ve taken on fire and casualties so that the path for others will be a little less hazardous. It’s a pity so many of the bullets in our back have “Made in Australia” stamped on them. As I said, take a lot to erase that.

      • Alastair Leith

        Yeah it’s amazing that this central fact is missing from the entire debate and media coverage of SA’s renewables build out: this must happen across all of Australia all the way to 100% RE, and fast and unapologetically.

        Some say we must decarbonise the electricity sector by 2050 to meet Paris but that is only half the story and leaves a false lack of urgency. The international Paris commitments are to more like equivalent to 3.0º C, yet only +0º C is “safe”; currently we’re at 1.5ºC if we ceased all emissions tonight at 6PM (and that’s gonna happen, right?), at current levels all coral reefs seem to be doomed just as one example of a chain reaction of ecological decline.

        Electricity sector emissions are just a small, yes small(!), but important part of national emissions. Even using AGEIS data (which vastly under accounts Land Use Sector emissions and has other problematic aspects), electricity generation accounts for only a third of emissions. Grid supplied energy even less. In WA SWIS grid would be less than 20% of emissions even using AEGIS data which obscures fugitive emissions in the gas sector and land use.

        In order for the world to get to zero emissions by 2050, wealthy industrialised countries that are historically high per capita emitters like Australia should be out in front so the required technologies for the transition come down in price. (The just transition argument on a global scale).

        In order to reduce to zero our emissions in the transport, industrial processes and space and water heating sectors we need the electricity supply to be well on the way to 100%, preferably before we transition these technologies over to electrical power supply.

        Though in some cases it’s better to fuel switch now even with the electricity is ~80% fossil derived, eg RCAC heat pumps to do space heating because gas fueled ducted heating is so inefficient. Heat pumps for water heating over gas and they can double up doing domestic energy storage using excess PV generation behind the meter.

        Kevin Anderson lays out the challenges for meeting 2.0º/Paris aspiration in this excellent video. It’s an impossible task politically, so we need small groups of people to do the impossible, the way they do in the tech sector every day, but in the political space.

  • John Saint-Smith

    With the Snowy Show, and real dollars for solar thermal, its beginning to look like the Federal government is limping and crawling crabwise, in fits, false starts, and last minute scrambles in the general direction of a rational energy policy, all the while pretending to their own right flank that ‘there’s nothing happening’, and hoping that the knuckle dragging Abbott camp won’t catch on.

    But the capstone of any reform of the grid has to be a carbon intensity scheme which recognises the reason for emissions reduction. How is Malcolm going to slip that one through? Our future depends on it.