Alinta mulls 50MW solar tower plant with storage

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Updated: Alinta Energy says it prefers a stand-alone 50MW solar tower plant with 15 hours storage to replace coal fired power stations in Port Augusta, rather than hybrid solar-coal plant. But it is still worried about costs.

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The prospects of Australia finally constructing a stand alone solar thermal energy system with storage have advanced after Alinta Energy announced the results of a pre-feasibility study for solar options at its ageing and partially closed coal-fired power plants in Port August, South Australia.

Alinta, under enormous pressure from local groups who want the coal-fired generators removed, says it will now focus its studies on a stand-alone solar tower power plant with up to 15 hours storage to ultimately replace its coal fired generators in Port Augusta, South Australia.

It is an announcement welcomed by locals who have been pushing for such a project, although they may be frustrated by the timeline, which points to another few years of study.

Another irony is that any such power station would require support from a renewable energy target, or bodies such as the Clean Energy Finance Corporation or the Australian Renewable Energy Agency. Alinta recently argued forcefully for the RET to be stopped immediately.

“No new renewable energy should be supported under the RET and all new renewable energy projects, whether small or large scale, should be required to compete in the market without subsidy,” it argued in its submission. (See our story, Who is the greenest retailer in Australia?)

Still, in Thursday’s media release, Alinta says a stand-alone solar power station would be the best way forward, rather than a hybrid power plant. That’s because investors would be unlikely to support a hybrid given the limited life left to its Northern Power station.

Alinta said its study had considered technological maturity, predictability, land usage, risks to integration or operations and dual financial metrics: total installed cost and levelised cost of energy.

“Alinta Energy believes that standalone technology offers a greater potential for commercialisation than hybrid – mitigating the integration risks associated with hybridisation and offering potential generation opportunities beyond the life of its current coal-fired operations.”

alinta solar costingsThe study by Parsons Brinkerhoff identified the costs of the standalone options as above. The solar power tower, with 15 hours storage, was easily the best option.

Some other solar tower storage projects in Australia are being pursued. Vast Solar is building a demonstration plant with the support of the Australian Renewable Energy Agency; Abengoa, which is building a 110MW solar tower with storage plant in Chile,  is also considering a 20MW solar tower plus storage plant in WA, and Solar Reserve, which is building the 110MW Crescent Dunes solar tower with storage plant in Nevada (the world’s largest) has opened an office in Perth.

Still, Alinta’s head of power generation Ken Woolley, said there were significant challenges to developing such a plant, including capital costs “that are currently prohibitive”.  The study estimated them at $15,926/kW – and $258.24/kWh for sent out power.

This is considerably higher than Solar Reserve’s capital costs in Nevada, and well above its estimated LCOE, which is $US135/MWh, including the kind of support from the US equivalent of the CEFC that such a plant in South Australia would likely need.

“However, Woolley said Alinta Energy is committed to completing the solar thermal full feasibility study “with the due diligence it warrants”.

“This will provide a comprehensive information-base for potential investment partners to consider should the cost of technology or regulatory environment change.” That may elicit some lower bids for its proposals.

Alinta is likely to locate the plant at the south-east corner of its facilities in Port Augusta.

Alinta is conducting a $2.3 million study with the support of $1 million from ARENA and $130,000 from the South Australian Government

ARENA CEO Ivor Frischknecht said analysis from Parsons Brinkerhoff found that a 50 MW solar thermal plant near Port Augusta’s existing power stations is technically feasible.

abengoa solar thermal“Alinta is now focusing its pre-feasibility work into a stand-alone solar thermal plant using ‘power tower’ technology that would see a field of mirrors concentrate light into a central receiver.

“A stand-alone option was favoured over hybridising existing coal-fired plants due to lower technology risks and the capability to operate on a longer life cycle. This next stage of the investigation will give a clearer indication of the costs, logistics and overall feasibility of the plant.”

Frischknecht indicated that high temperatures generated by power tower technology (such as being built in Nevada) make it most compatible with molten-salt storage.

“A 50MW plant is capable of harbouring many hours of storage, presenting the key advantage of providing a steady flow of power through the night and during cloudy periods,” Frischknecht said.

All pre-feasibility work is due for delivery in early 2015. The full feasibility study is due to conclude in December 2015.

The Repower Port Augusta Alliance said Alinta Energy had made the right choice by choosing to pursue a solar thermal power station with storage, ruling out a hybrid coal-solar option.

“Here in Port Augusta, our community has been campaigning for years for a base-load solar thermal power station to be built and this decision is a major step forward for the health, economy and environment of our region,” Lisa Lumsden, Chairperson of Repower Port Augusta said.

“Solar thermal with storage gives our community the opportunity to transition away from coal, keep jobs in town and secure our long term future.

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27 Comments
  1. Craig Allen 5 years ago

    The existing station has a capacity of 520MW. Why are they only investigating a 50MW solar option?

    • Jennifer Gow 5 years ago

      My thoughts exactly. There is a severe lack of vision here, We should be building utility scale solar thermal to push the filthy Victorian brown coal generators into the dustbin of history.

    • Giles 5 years ago

      First things first. the biggest one in the world is 110MW. Seeing as this is first of its kind in Australia, make sense it would be smaller. And once one is built, and others, capital costs will come down quickly, making it cheaper and more commercially viable to expand. It will also rely on CEFC and ARENA funding i’d imagine.

      • Jennifer Gow 5 years ago

        This is not really the case since you only refer to the capacity of one of the generating units In total the three units at the Ivanpah power plant in California has a peak capacity a shade under 400 megawatts. Now that’s a coal killer.

        • Giles 5 years ago

          Ivanpah does not have storage. That is the critical element here. My reference is to the Crescent Dunes project, the largest solar tower with storage project in world, which hasn’t quite opened yet. https://reneweconomy.com.au/2014/worlds-biggest-solar-tower-storage-plants-starts-commissioning-16544

          • Michael G Swifte 5 years ago

            It’s more truthful to say that Ivanpah is a Gas-Hybrid CSP. We’ve got to be on the look out for this kind of hybridisation as projects develop. Brightsource/Bechtel skilfully intimated that storage was on it’s way with Ivanpah but the reality is very different. Steam heat exchanges don’t come with storage because they were developed – with Chevron in the case of Ivanpah – to assist in reducing the cost of steam production for Enhanced Oil Recovery (EOR). Every time a pundit says “without storage” they mean CST Hybrid. No storage? Got to get the baseload somehow!

          • wideEyedPupil 5 years ago

            Brightsource claimed that Ivanpah was going to be financially viable just meeting afternoon peak demand. You’re right about them intimating storage was a bolt on possibility for the future, my recollection is that’s exactly what they said.

      • Craig Allen 5 years ago

        Except that this is not a proposal to actually build anything. It’s feasibility study. What if it’s not economic at 50MW but would be at bigger scale? Ivanpah is 377MW with three units. Surely the Port Augusta proposal is going to be more expensive on a per MW basis, and possibly therefore less likely to be a viable proposition. If they don’t investigate the feasibility of a larger project and decide on the basis of this lack of ambition to not build it, then we may never get the opportunity to see the cheaper more viable larger scale options.

        • Giles 5 years ago

          Key to all this is modularity, so the scale thing is not necessarily true (apart from cost of connection) Crescent Dune owners looking at 30MW or 50MW modules, for instance. If i were alinta, i would be looking at a 50MW now, and then adding as Northern were wound down. of course, everyone wants northern to go now, but that not likely as Abbott ditches the RET and the carbon price. And alinta owners are in middle of sales process, hence the delay – frustrating as it is for all.

          • michael 5 years ago

            slightly surprising that $800m only gets 288GWh when the same price got twice that at Crescent Dunes (500GWh from website, though available hours of dispatchable could influence it), that will probably be a large impediment to viability. unless the township agrees to a high PPA rate if they want this option so badly instead of relying on an RET/ARENA to spread that increased cost across the rest of the population to fund htem being first mover. I wonder why environmental movements don’t fund these sorts of projects? they aren’t looking for profits at the end of the day

          • wideEyedPupil 5 years ago

            Maybe because the environmental movement can’t get a PPA for all the money in the world, which they don’t happen to have in any case!

    • wideEyedPupil 5 years ago

      It’s the hybrid you have without building a hybrid. Keep burning coal in one of the existing plants while a ten year technology evaluation study of the plant is conducted (demand will likely fall without the smelter). Let’s see, early 2015 for a pre-feasibility study, early 2017 for a feasibility study, early 2018 for a capital funding phase including handshakes with CEFC and ARENA.

      Possibly by this time if CSIRO still exists their superheated steam concentrated solar thermal testbed will have a storage solution and they could get involved restarting feasibility and financing stages, where are we now, early 2020 (oh great the year Potsdam Institute said Australia and USA needed to have decarbonised by for the world to make the mythical 2ºC “safe climate guardrail” (2ºC is not particularly safe). So with a ten year technology evaluation study we are at early 2030 and we can think about scaling up from 50MW to 200MW. And in the mean time Alinta have burn a crap load more coal at Port Augusta.

      • Michael G Swifte 5 years ago

        Steam CSP’s are a product of the development of EOR techniques by companies like Chevron. That’s why Brightsource/Bechtel conveniently built gas turbines for baseload into Ivanpah. The scary truth becomes evident when you watch this 2010 video featuring Robert F Kennedy Junior spruiking solar to the oil and gas lobby saying “these wind and solar plants are really gas plants”. Ignore baseload at your peril people.

  2. Robyn Wood 5 years ago

    This is great news heading in the right direction, although not perfect. I hope investment partners can be found! Wouldn’t it be great if existing gas and coal energy companies got involved rather than continuing their “hate solar” campaigns.

    • Michael G Swifte 5 years ago

      In the USA Bechtel and Chevron have firmly established themselves in solar. Both had a big part to play in getting the Ivanpah – Gas Hybrid CSP going. Chevron helped develop the technology and Bechtel built the plant. All this was funded by Cargill (Big AG), Google (Big Tech), NRG (Big Nukes), and with help from US DoE (Big Gov) loan guarantees.

  3. wideEyedPupil 5 years ago

    “This will provide a comprehensive information-base for potential investment partners to consider should the cost of technology or regulatory environment change.”

    In other words Abbott is holding back the development of clean power technology in this country. Couldn’t have said it any clearer without being rude to the Australian coal industries BFF.

  4. Warwick 5 years ago

    This seems a bit inconsistent with their comments on the RET review…”no new renewable energy should be supported under the RET and all new renewable
    energy projects, whether small or large scale, should be required to compete in the
    market without subsidy;..”

    • Matthew Wright 5 years ago

      subsidies or support (Regulatory or otherwise) to our competitors are bad. But subsidies to us – that’s fine, at Alinta we’re about getting ahead with an unfair advantage over everyone else.

      • Chris Fraser 5 years ago

        Them and aluminium smelters, perhaps.

  5. Zvyozdochka 5 years ago

    Solar Dawn should be revived.

    My employer modelled relocating peaking OCGT units exhausting into CST storage (or as reheat) to effectively turn them into extremely flexible combined-cycle units. Add that with solar PV, wind, hydro and you covered off the renewable ‘backup’ question without purchasing new backup capacity.

  6. Matthew Wright 5 years ago

    Another awesome addition would be electric dump coils so that excess wind in South Australia could be dumped into the Molten Salt Storage tanks. ie when prices are negative or so low that the later dispatch would be wortwhile. The round trip efficiency would be around 30% but better than turning wind turbines off due to too much power being produced or exporting to Victoria when prices are already rock bottom in the middle of the night.

  7. Blair Donaldson 5 years ago

    How long would such a project take to construct? I hope it goes ahead.

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