The $230 million Solar Oasis solar thermal project in Whyalla has taken a significant step forward after finally sealing a funding deed with the federal Government over a $60 million grant.
The grant was awarded nearly two years ago under the Renewable Energy Development Program, but like many in the series of government grant schemes was struck by long delays in agreeing on the final details that would allow the funds to be accessed.
The signing of the deed, revealed by the Whyalla Shire Council in a local newspaper, and confirmed by the Department of Energy and Resources, means that the Solar Oasis consortium can move forward on financing and then starting construction of the 40MW demonstration project.
Construction is now expected to start in 2013 and will be due for completion in 2015, and could be the first large scale solar thermal facility in Australia if it is constructed before the huge 250MW project proposed by Areva’s Solar Dawn consortium in the Solar Flagships program. If the 40MW Whyalla project is successful, there are plans to expand this to a 200MW facility.
The Whyalla facility, which will be located about 4kms north of the city, sees itself as a “peaking” plant delivering energy during the day and early evening peaks. I
It will comprise around 330 “big dish” solar thermal concentrators, which each have 500 square metres of high tech mirrors capable of generating temperatures in excess of 1500C. The energy is concentrated onto a receiver to produce super critical hot steam which then drives a turbine to produce electricity.
The dishes will be manufactured and assembled on-site using Wizard Power’s Factory-in-the-Field. The project is expected to result in the direct generation of over 200 jobs in Whyalla during the two year manufacturing and construction period.
The “big dish” technology was originally developed at the ANU and is now held by Wizard Power. The developers of the project are National Power and Sustainable Power Partners.
Solar Oasis has high hopes for the technology. It made five applications in various states under the flagships program but was not shortlisted, possibly because it had already been awarded a REDP grant and flagships chose to concentrate on technology that had been demonstrated.
Wizard Power’s Artur Zawadski said the start of the Whyalla project would also be crucial for its efforts to sign contracts overseas. One of the most prospective markets is India, which is tendering for projects under its national Solar Mission initiative to have 22GW of solar power installed by 2022. However, bids into that scheme can only be a maximum of twice the capacity of a project that has reached financial closure elsewhere. i.e. someone else musts have agreed to fund the technology before the Indians will touch it.
“We are very much focused on opportunities overseas,” Zawadski told RenewEconomy. “There is a high growth market in India, China is putting its toes in water for CSP), and we think there are opportunities in the US, southern Europe and North Africa. Most of these overseas opportunities are largely dependent on the first project going ahead in Australia.”