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SolarReserve aims to build 6 solar tower power plants in South Australia

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US solar company SolarReserve has unveiled plans to build six large solar tower power plants with molten salt storage in South Australia to provide clean, dispatchable electricity to the state’s grid. But it has warned that none will happen unless it can get a contract and finance for the first plant near Port Augusta.

Kevin Smith, the CEO of the Santa Monica-based power company, unveiled the plans on Monday, meeting press, local councillors and the community in Port Augusta, before meetings with the state premier in Adelaide and federal politicians in Canberra later in the week.

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SolarReserve says its six power plants will provide 660MW of reliable, dispatchable and zero emissions power – with a combined 880MWh of molten salt storage – that could account for one quarter of the state’s power needs, keep a lid on power prices because of the zero fuel cost, and provide 24,000 jobs during construction.

It says that its plants would provide as much reliable power as the current Heywood connector – and presumably any new ones being considered – and would be a more cost-effective option at scale than the battery storage alternatives being trialled by the likes of AGL Energy in a virtual power plant.

But Smith makes clear that without a power purchase agreement for 20 years – and assistance from the federal or state government in the form of grants or concessional finance – then it will be impossible to get the first project built.

“This is a relatively new technology, and the first of its kind in Australia,” Smith told RenewEconomy in a phone interview from Port Augusta on Monday. “We need to get to get manufacturing facilities in place to bring the costs down.

“So our key message is that governments (when choosing technologies) need to look at the entire picture – not just the price of power, but other benefits, such as jobs, zero emissions power, and the opportunity to roll out multiple projects.”

The solar tower plus storage plan has captured the imagination of the public, particularly in Port Augusta, and federal and state politicians on both sides talked effusively about the prospects for solar thermal in recent months. Some have been to visit the company’s 110MW facility which is operating in Nevada.

SolarReserve’s latest intervention comes as South Australia announces another tender to provide the state with 75 per cent of its electricity needs.

Controversially, the state appears to be favouring gas generators for the tender, announcing $24 million in assistance to develop new reserves, and allowing a 17-year-old gas generator that stopped producing electricity just 11 days before the closure of the last coal fired power generator to be considered as a “new plant.”

Smith says SolarReserve intends to bid into that tender, although it will need a longer contract than the 10 years that the state appears to be offering. Because of the up-front capital costs, it will be difficult to finance otherwise.

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The six power stations that SolarReserve envisages are all located in the mid to far north of the state. They include Leigh Creek (where the Northern power station’s coal mine was located, and a competing coal-to-gas project), and Roxby Downs (where a solar PV plus battery storage project is also proposed).

The other proposed sites are at Whyalla and Woomera, as well as the Port Augusta project dubbed Aurora.

SolarReserve says the sites have been selected for their solar resources and their proximity to power lines.

The first project, called Crescent Dunes next to the desert town of Tonopah, provides power to Las Vegas between the hours of midday and midnight, but the facility can be calibrated to deliver power 24/7, or act as a peaking plant.

In fact, it can do whatever a gas-fired generator can do, says Smith, and it does not need or use gas as a back-up plant, as the state government appears to believe following misinformation from a rival technology company Solastor.

The Crescent Dunes plant was built with the help of a Department of Energy loan and a long term contract struck at $US135/MWh. It is soon to begin construction on a similar sized plant at Redstone in South Africa, with costs down around 20 per cent, and Smith expects costs to fall by around half from the original plant.

This fits in with the view of ACWA Power, which is helping build Redstone and other solar tower projects, and who predicts that solar tower with storage will beat 8c/kWh. SolarReserve has also signed an agreement with China coal giant Shenhua to build 10 such power stations in China.

But in any new market, the first plant is critical. This has been the experience of large scale solar PV in Australia, which is much more expensive here than in other countries because the supply systems are yet to be put in place. But a tender process conducted by ARENA has already been able to bring costs down by around 40 per cent.

Smith says SolarReserve would likely need either a grant from ARENA or finance from an institution such as the Clean Energy Innovation Fund to be able to offer a competitive price in the first project.

“Building this first project will provide South Australian companies, manufacturers, engineering firms, and lenders with the confidence to invest resources and capital in this new industry resulting in more competitively priced projects in the future,” Smith says.

“The technology is already proven and is an excellent fit for Australia’s rapidly evolving grid. As renewable energy penetration grows in Australia, the need for utility-scale renewable generation with storage technology will become increasingly important.”

 

   

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  • Analitik

    So what’s the bottom line price for the first plant at Port Augusta?
    I couldn’t find it in the article, Solarstor was $1.2 billion for their similarly sized proposal

    • $650 million. I will add their table.

    • solarguy

      Mark is correct and that’s why the storage is important. Solar Reserve are happy with the % of direct sunlight, it’s a goer!
      Keep in mind the storage capacity can be designed for several days of operation

    • Tim Forcey

      Sunlight-related data for many sites around Australia available in the data files here, should anyone like to do their own analysis. http://webarchive.nla.gov.au/gov/20140211194248/http://www.climatechange.gov.au/reducing-carbon/aemo-report-100-renewable-electricity-scenarios

    • Gary Rowbottom

      Alinta’s feasibility study bought “3 Tier” DNI data and also verified it with an on site solar resource data collection station. The Solar Reserve proposed site would be a little better, as it is further north (about 40 km) than where Alinta looked. And see Tim’s response below too.

    • Brian Tehan

      Averages 5.3KWH per day per square metre (horizontal), according to the BOM stats. 2.7 in winter to 7.8 in summer – improved significantly over that figure in winter by the tilted mirrors used.

  • Kenshō

    This series of projects offers enormous potential for ironing out the problems of peak demand and gaming the electricity market. The technology appears to be shaping up as the next prime contender, in taking up its place in the distributed RE/storage paradigm, after the Lyon PV/storage projects.

  • solarguy

    If it was up to me, ink would be put to paper in a heart beat. This technology is the ducks guts. Storage capacity can be built to last well over a week if needed for $134/kwh built currently and makes batteries look very expensive.
    If SA don’t choose this they have nothing between the ears.

    • Kenshō

      It a appears a technology of greater scale, so perhaps it could form the backbone of the new grid, with projects like Lyon PV/storage and Wind/storage filling in the middle level of scale, and then down to more onsite industrial, commercial and residential projects..

      • solarguy

        Yes, I agree with that thinking Kensho. However after talking to Solar Reserve it is competitive currently down to 20MW.

        • Kenshō

          Fantastic, this gives SA yet another opportunity to secure a more reliable grid while clocking up experience with a range of competing technologies. I think SolarReserve should be given the opportunity to enter the track, along with all other front runner technologies for RE/storage.

    • john

      As he said he expects the outcome to be half of $134/mwh as in say 7.7 cents a kwh

      • solarguy

        Well that would be 6.75 cents/kwh @ half, but I was talking about the cost to build the molten salt storage $134/kw, not the cost of the power.

    • Coley

      Bit unfair on the general public of SA,? who seem to regard it as a bloody good idea!
      However, if you mean the politicians and bureaucrats, who often, ahem, have other agendas that the welfare of those whom they are supposed to represent ? Than again you are mistaken, they have plenty of $$$$$$ signs between their ears.

      • solarguy

        Wasn’t refering to the general public.

  • Andrew Oldfield

    What demand would the plant at Leigh Creek serve (I believe historic leigh creek demand was only ~ 3MW and since the mine closure it’ll be nothing)? Are they really saying that it’s more efficient to build a plant a couple of hundred kms up a 132kV line rather than at Pt Augusta? I have figures on the line resistance and if anyone is interested I could try and dig them up and do a calculation

    • solarguy

      There is one slated for the Port. The plant at Leigh Creek would be because it’s close to lines.

      • nakedChimp

        That’s what Andrew said.. but he thinks the line is too long for what it offers.

    • Kenshō

      I agree with your logic that it is short sighted to focus around existing infrastructure of an old centralised grid. The priority is servicing population centres with the least vulnerability to wind, flood and fire. A targeted distributed grid would minimise impacts from weather events like the recent 18,000 premises effected by storms at Eyre Peninsula effecting power, NBN, landlines and threatening water storage levels with pumping stations offline.

  • Nick Thiwerspoon

    This makes so much sense. Dispatchable power 24/7 at 7.7 cents per kWh. No need for a new connector. Break the power of the existing monopoly. Use Australia’s massive solar resources.

    Make it happen, SA!

  • bedlam bay

    Great opportunity for SA which should be encouraged also by Federal govt. Success could lead to more installations in other states.

    • Brian Tehan

      Up near Townsville, inland, would be a good spot. Heaps of sunshine, heat and a large energy hungry city. Queensland are a long way behind on renewables, when they should be ahead.

  • Gary Rowbottom

    Solar Reserve gave a great presentation to our community last night. More importantly over the next few days they are talking to our State & Federal politicians. I sure hope they listen and take it all in, and more importantly, act to show actual support that they have talked about.

    As a point of clarification, the first project that Solar Reserve want to build, Aurora, in my home town of Port Augusta (Yay!), is proposed to be 110 MW, with 8 hours storage – so that project alone has 880 MWh, per day, of potential storage (of course limited by actual DNI conditions). Each of the other 5 proposed power stations presumably would have something similar, but the storage in this type of plant can be varied from 0 (which would be silly) to 15 hrs or maybe more, so MW capacity x number of hours storage per day (at design DNI conditions) = MWh storage per day. That is of course in addition to the output during the periods of the day when the sun is providing the energy source. Apologies for those I’m teaching to suck eggs on that point. It’s my pedantic technical officer background coming out! I really, really hope the government comes good on its positive talk on this. And I’m going to keep trying to engage with them to encourage them to do so.

    • nakedChimp

      fingers crossed.

  • Kenshō

    I’m definitely favouring the Lyon PV/storage projects, as I’m concerned about birds after reading the Wikipedia article on Ivanpah Solar Power Facility. Human beings are not a threatened species except in terms of depleting our ecosystem.

    • nakedChimp

      You mean if they not get ACC under control (and with us out of the picture) the birds could rule the world again – like they did 65 million years ago?

      • Kenshō

        Isn’t this the same technology in Ivanpah?

        In late 2015, Brightsource released the results of the first full year of monitoring bird and bat deaths at the Ivanpah solar plant. The company reported that during a year of study supervised by the California Division of Wildlife, the number of observed bird deaths, adjusted upward to account for inefficiencies of the carcass-counting, arrived at an estimated 3,500 bird deaths per year caused by the Ivanpah solar plant. The Ivanpah plant has taken steps to further reduce bird deaths.[70][71]

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

        • No it’s not. similar but not the same. First, it has storage, and different sort of towers. they do not have the same bird problems.

  • Ian

    This is crazy talk. These people have a 110 MW plant in Navada and now they want to muscle in on South Australia with 600MW of thermal solar and 880MWH of salt storage. They threaten not to develop the one plant that is really needed unless the government supports 5 others in some remote locations that are not needed. They claim they can supply a 1/4 of south Australia’s electricity needs and want a 20 year monopoly on that supply. Bugger the existing wind farms and photovoltaic options. These guys are promising the earth and want to corner the market . Seriously, would you put all your trust in some big-shot American snake oil expert? Go back to the drawing board guys!

  • Ian

    Once battery storage comes down in price , South Australia won’t need smoke and mirrors to supply it’s after hours energy needs.

  • Ken Fabian

    If only for the purpose of a working trial, both to prove viability and to identify what can be done differently or better, at least one such plant should be built. As a part of a genuine attempt to address emissions in the face of accumulating and irreversible climate change there ought to be commitment to as many as it takes. As long as this technology’s benefits can be claimed to be hypothetical the opponents of The Energy Transition can continue their campaign of impedement.