The ACT government, having kick-started the Australian solar PV utility scale sector, and the wind industry through its successful reverse auctions, is now turning its focus to large scale solar plus storage installations.
The government plans to begin the process for auctioning 50MW of capacity later this year. Right now it is keeping an open mind of what might be offered, and is planning to conduct consultations before hand to see how it might work.
Certainly, the industry sees it as the best chance to get the first large scale solar plus storage plant in Australia, including the solar towers with storage which are now being built in the US, South Africa and South America.
Other solar plus storage projects have been mooted – such as the one that could replace the Playford coal generator in Port Augusta, South Australia. But that process – for a potential 50MW solar tower plus storage facility – has been slowed by the sale process of the plant’s owners, Alinta, by its private equity backers.
Efforts to convince mining groups of commissioning a solar plus storage plant have been frustrated because miners are highly conservative, although Rio Tinto’s Weipa mine will have storage added to a solar PV array under a project funded by the Australian Renewable Energy Agency.
ACT energy minister Simon Corbell, the driving force behind the government’s 90 per cent renewable energy plan, says options for the “next gen” solar project are still being considered.
Corbell told RenewEconomy in an interview that the ACT planned to run an expression of interest process to understand the range of proposals and options, and then frame the structure of the auction round in response.
Among those thought to be interested are US-based Solar Reserve, which is putting the finishing touches to its 110MW Crescent Dunes project in Nevada, the first solar tower technology with direct molten salt storage built at this scale. It has also secured a win in a recent tender by the South African government, and is known to be developing a smaller module of around 30MW to 50MW that could be attractive to miners and regional centres.
As appealing as it might be to have a solar tower on top of Parliament House, replacing the flag pole (perhaps with an image of Julie Bishop’s death stare on rows of heliostats surrounding it – the force of a thousand dying suns, as one person has suggested), such a project would likely be built in western NSW, where the solar resources are much better.
The ACT’s successful reverse auction program – which has also seen 40MW of solar PV plants allocated – and 20MW completed – may also be exported to other states, such as Queensland and Victoria.
Queensland’s new Labor government has already signalled it will use the process to kick-start large scale solar in the state and its ambition of reaching 50 per cent renewables by 2030.
Corbell says he has not had direct talks with Queensland Labor, but is aware that the renewable energy industry has been pushing the idea, and looks forward to the opportunity of talking to the new government.
Corbell did say, however, that he had held numerous talks with the new Victoria Labor government. He said he was not aware if Victoria intended to follow the ACTs lead, but he had been informing them how it worked.
“I’ve certainly been in discussions with my counterpart in Victoria,” he said. “It is not for me to speak to them … I understand that the new Victorian government is looking closely at developments in the ACT.”