Alinta seeks ARENA funds for study into Port Augusta solar

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Alinta seeks ARENA funding for full study into Port Augusta solar options, and says it is looking at big solar opportunities in the Pilbara.

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Australia’s Alinta Energy is to put in an application shortly to the Australian Renewable Energy Agency for funding towards a full feasibility study into its options for a concentrated solar power (CSP) plant in the South Australian city of Port Augusta.

The company has already produced a “pre-feasibility” study into its options in the South Australian city, but said this week it wants a full scale study to help it decide whether to go for a 50-100MW stand alone CSP system, or a hybrid arrangement that would be combined with its existing coal-plant.

It also said it was looking at CSP options in the Pilbara mining region of Western Australia, which has some of the best solar resources in the state and also some of the highest electricity costs.

Alinta currently owns the ageing and dirty Playford and Northern brown coal generators in Port Augusta. Playford has been closed for a year and Northern is now used only in the summer, when demand is higher, and the company has come under intense community pressure to close both plants because of the health impacts and opt for solar instead.

The issue has become something of a symbol for the impending transformation of Australia’s generation fleet from coal to renewables, even though the Collinsville power station in Queensland is likely to go through an earlier switch.  Supporters of a solar project last year made a 14-day march to Adelaide to press their case.

CSP with storage is considered a critical element of a move to large scale renewables because of its ability to provide dispatchable energy, and because it has more flexible output than base-load fossil fuel generators. Unlike solar PV, CSP (also known as solar thermal) uses the sun’s energy to create superheated steam which is then used to drive a turbine and generate electricity. Some say it could provide half Australia’s energy needs in the future.

Jamie Lowe, an Alinta manager helping lead the solar project, told a symposium hosted by the CSP industry network SolarPaces in Newcastle this week that Alinta was keen to install large scale solar but had not yet settled on the best option.

A hybrid plant is attractive to the company because it would help prolong the life of the 540MW Northern power station, and the Leigh Creek coal mine, although it was not clear that technical issues could be overcome.

However, he said the pre-feasibility study had found that a stand alone plant would be feasible, albeit with the assistance of agencies such as ARENA and the Clean Energy Finance Corp.

The first study found that CSP technologies such as parabolic troughs or linear Fresnel would cost around $200/MWH, while solar towers were more expensive.  It said storage would be an essential component.  The CSP industry believes these costs will fall to around $120/MWh by 2020, but it needs plants to be built to lower the cost of finance, installation and maintenance, all critical components of costs.

Lowe said the study had concluded that solar would bring benefits to the region –in the form of reduced pollution from coal dust, reduced emissions, jobs, and because it would delay the need for any additional fossil fuel generation, would better match peak demand than most of the wind output in the state, and would therefore help reduce network investment costs on reliability, and it would have a positive impact on electricity retail competition in the state.

Lowe said an application for funding for a 12-15 month feasibility study would be made to ARENA shortly, and the company would also be talking to the South Australian government about accessing funding through regional funding mechanisms. It would also be talking to the CEFC.

Meanwhile, David Iverarch, from Novatec Solar, which manufacturers the linear Fresnel CSP technology to be used at Collinsville, said the proposal to install a 30MW CSP plant in Townsville was looking promising. The idea is to supplement this with a 20MW solar PV plant and possibly gas generation.

“We think it is eminently doable,” Iverarch told the conference. “It seems to us to be pitched just where we should be in Australia.”

Novatec’s technology is already used in a 9MW “solar booster” demonstration plant at the Liddell coal fired power station in NSW. Novatec also has a 30MW plant in operation in Spain, and is looking to add storage. Novatec is part owned by Australia’s Transfield Group.

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11 Comments
  1. Useful Design 6 years ago

    It’s profoundly disappointing that Alinta is asking for public money to make a decision between stand alone SolarCST and some Coal-Solar hybrid. If we accept that the chief motivation for moving from coal-fired power generation to SolarCST is the effect on the atmosphere of burning coal, then why would you need millions of dollars to think about it?

    It’s like a person suffering profound heart disease who’s been told by Dr Esslystein, ‘okay cut out all animal products and other fat containing foods from your diet and your arteries will return to health responding’ with: ‘How about I only eat chicken on Mondays Wednesdays and Fridays, Beef or Lamb on the other days and cut my dairy consumption by 50%, Doc?’. No dice. The sad truth is that the threshold we must reduce our CO2-e emissions to is exactly zero. Allocating CO2-e rations per capita, Australia needs to do it faster than any other country as we historically and currently have the highest per capita emissions in the world. The Potsdam Institute says Australia and the USA must do it in one decade, and the clock started a couple of years ago already.

  2. Useful Design 6 years ago

    If Alinta were to go coal-SolarCST hybrid they would be omitting the most significant part of BZE’s proposal: the molten salts storage capacity to produce dispatch energy and time of night or day. This relatively inexpensive energy storage medium (relative to electric batteries, compressed air, flywheels, etc etc) is the technology which needs to be demonstrated in Australia to show the nation that 100% Renewable energy supply is not only possible — it’s desirable on a whole lot of levels.

    • Useful Design 6 years ago

      If omitting storage why wouldn’t you just use SolarPV arrays over SolarCST, unless Alinta are cynically trying to harness the communities enthusiasm for BZE’s Repower Port Augusta Report to keep their coal mines open rather than closing them down. A great bit of bait and switch that any astroturfing org would be very pleased with. SolarPV being a matured technology per MW is way cheaper than SolarCST which has only been built a handful of times. There’s every reason to expect SolarCST can enjoy an exponential cost curve downwards like SolarPV if deployment grows as rapidly as PV has.

    • Ron Barnes 6 years ago

      It is Far cheaper to produce Supper heated Steam from a Solar Furnace, Than a Coal fired Boiler System. It is cheaper and easier to operate, Than Salt or Straight P V Systems. Would Suit all older Type of Power stations For the Production Of Supper heated Steam.Letting them to be used till Newer Systems are Installed..

      • Useful Design 6 years ago

        Er Ron, solarPV omits the conversion of electricity to super-heated water (high capacity steam) and the conversion of that as kinetic energy to mechanical energy to drive a turbine to produce electricity. Where the desired product is electron flow, solarPV does it in a single step.

        SolarPV is presently more cost effective in producing electricity than SolarCST at any likely scale but, unlike solarCST, solarPV has no cheap storage-for-dispatch option.

        • Ron Barnes 6 years ago

          Solar P V consists of 2 steps one is power is made in D,C current and with conversion to AC their are energy losses which are given off as heat which is the cause of P V Inverter failures..There are other ways of converting to A C at the Solar panels Much more safely and eficentely.

          • Useful Design 6 years ago

            Yes Inverters are required for solarPV to mains. And step up transformers too I assume if dispatching utility scale power along HV transmission lines to the energy demand locations?

          • Ron Barnes 6 years ago

            The reason we dont Use Direct Current power is it is Extreemly dangerous compaired with Alternating Current

      • Ron Barnes 6 years ago

        have Solar Pv Built a Solar Furnace and Destroyed an aluminum tower ignited it Would have made a use full weapon

  3. Petra Liverani 6 years ago

    If you support CSP with storage in Port August you can sign this petition: http://www.communityrun.org/petitions/build-australia-s-first-baseload-renewable-energy-plant-at-port-augusta

  4. DanS 6 years ago

    The government should fund the stand alone tower with storage – a hybrid won’t benefit the community

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