Australian solar thermal company wins global innovation award

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Australian firm Vast Solar takes out SolarPACES technology innovation award for concentrating solar thermal and energy storage technologies.

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Image credit: Vast Solar
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Australian solar thermal company Vast Solar has taken out the Technology Innovation Award at the International Energy Agency’s SolarPACES 2019 conference held in South Korea.

Vast Solar has developed concentrated solar thermal technology, that can be combined with molten sodium thermal storage to deliver dispatchable renewable energy. The company is aiming to use its modular tower system and thermal energy storage to deliver dispatchable energy at prices cheaper than conventional solar thermal technologies.

Vast Solar constructed a working demonstration of its solar energy and storage technologies near the central New South Wales town of Jemalong. The demonstration plant is capable of producing up to 6MW of solar thermal heat and 1.1MW of electricity generation and received grant funding from the Australian Renewable Energy Agency.

Vast Solar believes that its technology can achieve significant cost reductions when built at scale and is targeting a levelised cost of energy in the region of $100 per MWh upon the completion of its first commercial-scale solar thermal project.

“This award is further proof that our technology has the potential to transform energy production in sunny places around the world,” Vast Solar CEO Craig Wood said.

“We are now totally focused on developing our Reference Plant which will prove the technology at commercial scale.  From there, we anticipate our technology playing a critical role in energy production in suitable climates around the world, generating clean, reliable energy at low cost.”

SolarPACES was founded by member countries of the International Energy Agency in 1977 as a forum to support and promote the development of solar thermal technologies. Chairman of SolarPACES, Robert Pitz-Paal, said that Vast Solar had been recognised for its contributions towards addressing the cost competitiveness of concentrating solar thermal technologies.

“We are happy to recognise Vast Solar for its highly innovative technology that makes significant steps towards cost competitiveness of CSP and is thus fully in line with our award criteria. The Company’s work has advanced the industry and we are looking forward to the ongoing development of the business as it takes its technology to the commercial stage,” Pitz-Paal said.

While solar thermal technologies have some design advantages over those of solar PV technologies, such as higher energy efficiencies and an ability to be paired with thermal storage systems, higher prices have stunted the level of uptake of solar thermal as solar PV and wind projects have dominated investment in renewable energy projects.

The SolarPACES innovation award is the second such award received by Vast Solar this year after the company also received the Technology Innovation Award at the CSPPLAZA’s annual conference in China in July.

Following the conference in CSPPLAZA conference, Vast Solar revealed that it had completed a capital raising that the company will use to complete a larger, 30MW, solar thermal “reference” project. The reference plant will provide up to 30MW of solar thermal generation, 20MW of solar PV capacity and 10-hours of thermal energy storage.

Vast Solar has previously pursued the development of a 50MW solar PV plant located nearby its existing solar thermal demonstration plant in Jemalong but opted to sell the development rights to the project to Genex Power, after Vast Solar decided to seek out a more attractive location to demonstrate a scaled-up demonstration of its solar thermal technologies.

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