Birdsville geothermal plant to finally get major upgrade | RenewEconomy

Birdsville geothermal plant to finally get major upgrade

Australia’s only geothermal power supply is to finally get its long awaited upgrade.



The long-awaited awaited upgrade of Australia’s only operating geothermal plant – at the iconic outback town of Birdsville, looks like it will finally occur after the Queensland government allocated $15 million to the project in the latest budget.

According to local grid operator, Ergon Energy, the Birdsville Geothermal Power Station is the only utility operated geothermal power station in Australia. It uses fairly shallow geothermal heat, rather than the super-heated hot rocks lying 4-5kms underground proposed a few years ago.

The Birdsville plant is an 85kW net screw expander system, with the new plant expect to double the capacity to between 150kW and 200kW.

The biggest challenge for Ergon will be to integrate the new geothermal power station with the existing diesel power station. Tye aims to lift the share of renewable energy generation to 70 per cent on the outback, off grid town, and displace 80 per cent of the 500,000 litres of diesel currently consumed each year.


Ergon says the project will provide it with the knowledge and understanding of key issues associated with geothermal technical solutions for further possible application in isolated communities. Other towns have also expressed an interest in using geothermal energy.


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  1. Tim Buckley 3 years ago

    $15m to add 85kW of additional capacity. Seriously! Has no one done the maths. That is almost absurd as the idea of “clean coal”. I wonder who’s getting the EPC contract on that one. A 1000% “profit” mark-up?!

    • BushAxe 3 years ago

      2MW of solar and a 4MW/hr battery would be half that cost! Sounds like the Coober Pedy fiasco again.

    • Just_Chris 3 years ago

      It’s a r&d project. There is a whole heap of additional engineering time added to the top of the normal installation.

    • Kirk 3 years ago

      Someone crunched the numbers but his crunching mechanism was slightly off.

  2. trackdaze 3 years ago

    Thats a lot of camel pies.

  3. Malcolm M 3 years ago

    Birdsville would have close to Australia’s best solar resource.

  4. john 3 years ago

    For day time energy usage this should use Solar.
    Perhaps they should look at Storage as well as the cost of using 500,000 liters of diesel at $1.50 at least a liter has to be a pretty hefty sum.
    Considering the resent story just today here on reneweconomy about being able to produce power at 7.7Cents per kilowatthour, link.

    Quote from article “The output from the plant will be sold at market prices, but with an LCOE of around 7.7c/kWh”.

    So perhaps they should look over there next door.

  5. tsport100 3 years ago

    Birdsville is basically the Simpson Desert… $15m would cover the cost of a 15MW PV systems @$1.00 /watt

  6. Brad Sherman 3 years ago

    I seem to remember Ergon trying to decommission this plant back around 10 years or so ago. They wanted to standardise all their remote power systems on diesel as I recall.

    When I was working on my PhD (back in the 1980s) on the solar pond at Alice Springs, the operators of the solar pond were the operators of the Birdsville plant as well. I recall the Alice Springs Ranking cycle engine being used for spare parts for the Birdsville plant.

    A very important and generally unknown aspect of the geothermal plant at Birdsville is that it also produced fresh water for the community. I’m unsure about the quantity or whether or not that’s still the case. If it is still the case, then the value of the additional fresh water should be factored in to the CBA to provide a balanced assessment of the geothermal plant vis a vis other electricity generating technologies.

    • Brunel 3 years ago

      How does it produce drinking water?

      • Brad Sherman 3 years ago

        I believe it has to do with recovering the moisture from condensation in the cooling system used for the Rankine cycle engine. I’d have to double check on that, though. I suspect that, perhaps, brackish water might be used for cooling and the evaporative cooling effectively distills it.

  7. Graeme W 3 years ago

    An off-the-shelf ORC from Europe for use with 90 C geothermal water, plus cooling system, would cost no more than $1mill. Let’s say another 0.5 mill for installation. So budget is about 10 times the real cost – taxpayers are being taken for a ride on this one..

    In this case geothermal should be better than solar PV+storage, but only if done sensibly..

  8. David 3 years ago

    This is a example of why electricity prices are rising so fast. Utilities not using the most cost effective technology (i.e. solar and energy storage) and delivering projects for multiples of the cost of the private sector.

  9. MaxG 3 years ago

    What a bunch of fools… building thermal at a cost of 175 dollars per kW… really! Close the bloody thing and put panels and wind up with a few batteries.

  10. Brunel 3 years ago

    QLD government should not give money to this geothermal power station that is far away from the coast.

  11. Joe 3 years ago

    It is the only working Geo Thermal plant in Australia and started operating in October 1992. There has been plenty of stop and start with this thing which is probably why we don’t here a lot about it. If we can spend billions on Snowy then why can’t we spend some moolah in further developing Geo Thermal.There has got to be some upside in here.

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