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.