Hewson-backed company plans 170MW solar thermal “baseload” power plant for Port Augusta

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A $1.2bn, 170MW solar tower power and storage plant using Australian made technology is being proposed for Port Augusta.

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New South Wales-based solar thermal technology developer Solastor Australia is set to launch a proposal for the development of a solar thermal and storage plant of up to 170MW in Port Augusta, South Australia, that it says will provide the state with 24/7 base load and peak load generation.

The “game-changing” billion-dollar project, based on Solastor’s Australian-made and owned solar thermal tower technology, is being launched on Tuesday in Adelaide by the company’s chairman, prominent economist and former leader of the Liberal Party, Dr John Hewson.

It will compete with another proposed solar tower and storage project, a 110MW facility put forward by US company SolarReserve. Numerous other projects, including solar PV or wind, or both, including a 200MW facility put forward by the former boss of the Hazelwood brown coal power generator, are also being mooted.

Both Labor and the Coalition have suggested that they will support funding rounds for large-scale solar thermal and storage projects should they win the upcoming election.

According to the Solastor launch invitation, the proposed plant has a total project budget of approximately $1.2 billion and will comprise 1,700 modules, with a generation capacity of 110MW in winter and 170MW in summer.

Once completed it will generate approximately 1.25 billion kWh of electricity per annum – enough to power more than 200,000 Australian homes.

A Sydney-based company, Solastor has been on RenewEconomy’s radar for some years now, after it won a share of $12.7 million in clean energy funding form the Western Australian government in 2012, to use its Australian-invented and owned technology to develop solar thermal plants in WA.

But the technology has been around for much longer. The thermal storage technology used in the Solastor system is owned by Larkden Pty Ltd, a company started by Robert Lloyd.

In 1999, Larkden was granted the initial patents around energy storage in graphite. Larkden then issued a head licence to Lloyd Energy Systems, a company which further developed the technology between 2001 to 2009.

In 2006, Solastor won government funding to build a 3MW facility at Lake Cargellico. The facility consists of 8 modules and a steam turbine and started producing electricity in May 2011.

Over the past few years, the team from Solastor has also been upgrading the technology and working on solar thermal projects in Cyprus (25MW and 50MW), Oman (7.5 MW) and Chile (5 MW).

Like other solar thermal systems, Solastor’s is capable of providing energy on demand, and around the clock, by storing the heat from the sun.

In Solastor’s case, this is done using computerised sun-tracking heliostats, which reflect the sun’s rays onto solar thermal receivers (STRs), which are mounted on relatively short 24-metre high towers.

The receivers contain 10 tonnes of high purity graphite, which can be heated to a maximum of 800°C, and store energy through non-daylight hours.

Screen Shot 2016-06-03 at 1.28.24 PM
A Jiangsu Province, China project, commissioned 2015

Once the sun goes down, or it gets cloudy, the entry point to the tower’s receiver is closed and sealed. And once the energy is stored, the high purity graphite ensures the thermal losses are very low.

During daylight hours, the accuracy of the heliostats is continuously monitored by a camera at the base of the tower and, if required, recalibrated by the plant’s computerised control system.

To produce electricity, purified water is pumped from a holding tank to the STRs, within the STRs the water passes through a series of pipes embedded in the graphite called heat exchangers, the hot graphite converts the water into super heated steam.

The steam is then directed to a turbine and electricity produced. After the steam leaves the turbine it is cooled and condensed and the water returned to the holding tank to be recycled – a feature the company says that, along with its use of air-cooled condensers, makes the Solastor System ideally suited to arid regions, with limited water supplies.

The Solarstor system is also modular, so can be scaled up or down to meet requirements, and can apparently be installed in sloping and hilly terrain, avoiding the need for the vast flat areas required by solar thermal troughs and high towers.

But the system’s most important feature is probably its “schedulability”. By sunset each day, the exact amount of energy stored is known, allowing a utility to decide how it wants that energy delivered over the subsequent 24 hours, with availability guaranteed.

The technology allows “heat in/heat out” simultaneously, so there are a number of possible scenarios on the following day, including recharging storage tanks at the same time as they are being emptied.

If the utility considers a “no sun” forecast for the following day, it has the option of taking out only half the stored energy (for example during peak hours) then keeping half in reserve for the next day (for peak hours).

We expect to learn more details about the project, and how it might be funded, in the days following the formal launch on Tuesday.

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15 Comments
  1. David 3 years ago

    What is the commercial arrangement at Lake Cargelligo? I understood that Graphite Energy were Builders/owners/operators of the facility.

  2. Ian 3 years ago

    1.2 billion eggs to put in one not so proven basket. I hope this works out for them. The opportunity cost is huge if this fails.

    Lake Cargelligo is a 3 MW project with very little information on Google search of the name. Solarstor is even worse. They have a rubbish website that is still in the making. The solar thermal project funded by WA in Morawa never got off the ground. There is some old Liberal dude heading up Solarstor. I hope this is not a ” pink bats” type scam. Cash for mates, hey.

    • Ken Fabian 3 years ago

      I wonder how many businesses were kept solvent by the pink bats scheme – which served as an important economic boost during the GFC. I also wonder how many lives have been saved to date from excess heat and cold by better insulated homes. There were real problems with it’s management, including at the State work practices and workplace safety level, but calling it a scam and failure – which is popular and much repeated anti-Labor rhetoric – passes over the real benefits it did produce..

      • Ian 3 years ago

        Whoops, touched a sore spot, did I. Sorry. I was being a little ironic here. Labor was involved in the early renewables incentive schemes and they were criticised, as you point out, for the gravy-training by fly-by-night companies. Well this solar thermal/storage proposal for Port Augusta smells a lot like a huge scam. $1.2 billion for a +- 150MW project. This company headed by Hewson, Solarsor has one demonstration project at lake Cargelligo of 3MW. They got some funding from WA for Morawa about 5 years ago but nothing came of that . The article quotes the same company working in Cyprus,Chile and Oman, actually I was unable to find those projects either. The one in Cyprus seems to have disappeared from the Internet radar. A competing proposal is from the former boss of Hazelwood who apparently rubbished renewables whilst running Hazelwood and now is a solar champion. Does no one smell a rat here?

        • Andrew Woodroffe 3 years ago

          CAREFUL, $1.2 billion for a 170MW solar project is an awful lot. BUT we are NOT talking PV here. Annual production is expected to be 1.25 billion kWh (1,250,00 MWh), which is around 4 x what we would expect with 170MW of PV. To compare, we should be talking $1.2 billion for 680MW of PV AND with storage . . . the economics start to look much better.

          I share your concern about the lack of proven references.

          • AbbottIsGone 3 years ago

            Storing solar power as electrons involves conversion losses: a 2yo kid could tell you it’s theoretically too inefficient to run the main show but like wi-fi it adds functionality for the right price.

        • AbbottIsGone 3 years ago

          Did you even do year 11 economics?

  3. Jo 3 years ago

    Looks good, but there is one sentence that makes no sense: “And once the energy is stored, the high purity graphite ensures the thermal losses are very low.”
    High purity and energy losses – where is the logical or scientific relationship?

    • Geoff 3 years ago

      Let me clear it up for you. Graphite has high thermal conductivity hence will be able to retain heat for long periods of time. However, when heated to above 700C it creates CO2 when mixed with oxygen, so the graphite would have to be in a sealed container, which I’m sure it is. Agree with you – sentence does look a little weird.

  4. Alan S 3 years ago

    ‘Compete’ might be an inappropriate term. Port Augusta is an ideal demonstration site where several technologies could be assessed. Energy, employment and tourism in a few square km.

  5. Ken Fabian 3 years ago

    I wonder if we will see the stored energy part being more significant than so called baseload supply – ie that, in combination with widespread use of PV, such plants may hold back on supplying the sunny daytime periods and concentrate on stored power for supplying the evening peaks and overnights, with, presumably, higher electricity prices being paid and better financial returns.

    • AbbottIsGone 3 years ago

      Business is Business..

  6. Brunel 3 years ago

    Nobody tells us the cost of storing electrons in giant lithium batteries or in giant flow batteries – so we cannot really say if CSP is worth it.

    But the price of batteries is coming down.

    • AbbottIsGone 3 years ago

      The idea of storing solar power in electrical form is theoretically inefficient: storing it as heat involves less losses but low grade heat basically can’t be stored.
      Thus the technologies necessarily need to reach economies of scale to make them worth building and be of sufficient globally accepted standards of safety to deal with very hot temperatures. This is not a game…

      • Brunel 3 years ago

        Game?

        We need batteries for EVs and gadgets.

        So batteries will keep falling in price.

        Some remote communities get electrons from diesel generators, so is it cheaper to use solar PV + batteries instead?

        Well that question can only be answered if we know the cost of storing electrons.

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