Let’s get on with solar thermal at Port Augusta | RenewEconomy

Let’s get on with solar thermal at Port Augusta

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The closure of Alinta’s coal fired generators presents the opportunity to get on with building a CSP plant at Port Augusta.

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solar-power-plantLast week’s announcement by Alinta to close its 544MW Northern and 240MW Playford B coal fired power stations presents the opportunity to get on with building a concentrated solar power (CSP) plant at Port Augusta.

Beyond Zero Emissions in conjunction with the University of Melbourne’s Energy Institute showed a number of years ago that 100 per cent renewable energy is possible in Australia, and worked with the Port Augusta local council and community to highlight the case for CSP to be built there.  Beyond Zero Emissions also presented its research to a South Australian parliamentary inquiry into solar thermal in 2013.

Alinta’s recent detailed strategic review led to their decision to shut down their coal plants, but the decision would most certainly have been influenced by the recent feasibility study into CSP at Port Augusta, jointly funded by ARENA, Alinta and the South Australian Government. The decision is just another nail in the coffin for coal generation in Australia, and confirms that coal generation is not only uneconomic but is also something that communities ultimately do not want. They want clean sources of energy, renewable energy projects that are profitable and generate jobs.

The decision also shows that renewables are well and truly outcompeting coal and gas for energy generation in South Australia and in Australia more generally. State governments around Australia are setting and implementing ambitious and achievable renewable energy targets.

It is now an opportunity for state governments to develop state/territory renewable energy targets that outbid the national RET, just as they did in the mid 2000s in developing a national emissions trading scheme at state/territory level, that ultimately pushed John Howard to announce a federal scheme. The Queensland Minister for Energy and Water this week joined SA in setting ambitious renewable energy targets, announcing a Queensland Renewable Energy target of 50% by 2030 and 1 million solar rooftops by 2020.

Despite the best efforts of the Abbott government to constrain renewable energy in Australia, households continue to strive for energy freedom, where with greater energy efficiency and rooftop solar, homes can produce more energy than they consume and become renewable energy power stations.

Even the big energy retailers may finally be seeing the writing on the wall. Gas is not a viable option given the recent and ongoing large price increases as a consequence of Australia linking to international gas markets. Nuclear is not an option for a number of reasons, including the long lead time to build a nuclear plant, as well as the ongoing high costs and lack of an adequate solution to store nuclear waste. 

With SA moving above 40 per cent penetration of rooftop solar and wind, CSP is well placed to complement these trends and build plants of scale to meet energy on demand from the grid. Beyond Zero Emissions and others have already shown that with CSP with molten salt storage, energy can be stored and dispatched on demand, day or night. 

With CSP plants being built in Chile, Morocco, Spain and the US, Australia is the only inhabited continent that is not investing in concentrated solar thermal technology. CSP plants that have gone online in the last year have generated power 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, day in and day out. It is time we joined the rest of the world in investing in this technology.

Building CSP at Port Augusta would provide jobs for the 400 odd workers who will be unemployed with the closure of the Northern and Playford B coal plants. This is critical given the closure or winding back of other key industries in South Australia, including shipbuilding and motor vehicle manufacturing. What is going to happen to the 20,000 odd jobs in the motor vehicle industry in SA, the 1600 odd jobs in SA related to shipbuilding and now the 400 odd jobs in coal in Port Augusta? 

The Zero Carbon Australia Stationary Energy Plan showed that we can shift Australia to 100 per cent renewable energy using a mix of concentrated solar power, wind, and bio energy at a cost of $8 per household per week. Since that plan was produced, the cost of renewables has reduced further, making the overall costs of implementation much lower. The original plan also did not include pump storage hydro, solar PV and battery storage, all of which would be included today, also bringing costs down.

The transition to CSP is a natural part of the transition that communities like Port Augusta that are dependent on coal will make as the world moves away from fossil fuels. The community of Port Augusta has also previously noted the health benefits that will result from the shift away from coal. The announcement this week by G7 leaders that the world will not be burning fossil fuels by the end of the century signals that this transition is inevitable and will happen quickly. It is inevitable if the world is to limit warming to 2 degrees by the end of the century, and move beyond zero emissions.

Dr Stephen Bygrave is CEO of Beyond Zero Emissions and Adjunct Professor of the Institute for Environmental Studies at UNSW

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  1. barrie harrop 5 years ago
    • Chris Fraser 5 years ago

      I’m not a subscriber, but it would be interesting to see how they have been fudging the 40% figure.

      • barrie harrop 5 years ago

        Chris, send me your email and i will send you the item.
        [email protected]

      • Gary 5 years ago

        They had a cloudy month. Not sure if that constitutes a ‘complete failure’.

        • barrie harrop 5 years ago

          Ok,lets see how they go over the next 6mths-12mths,they are playing with a $2bn investment,high risk it seems to me to be 40% below target in this phase.

          • Alastair Leith 5 years ago

            Do you read tea-leaves too, barrie?

          • barrie harrop 5 years ago

            No Alastair, but have connections in the US that send me mail on stuff like this.

          • Alastair Leith 5 years ago

            you must be getting the good oil you’ve got them on ‘watch’ for next 6-12 months when their own contracts provide for 4 years to ramp to full production. *And* they’ve had below average insolation. genius.

          • barrie harrop 5 years ago

            It is too bad that someone like you posts about
            something you know only superficially and foolishly pretends to be wise. But
            such are critics.

          • Alastair Leith 5 years ago

            no you’re quite right, complete failure is the best way to characterise Ivanapah b/c your evidence was generally convincing to all. good call.
            – someone like me

    • Petra Liverani 5 years ago

      This web link took me directly to the article.

      I’ve seen an article in a similar vein before and its credibility is dubious. The writer does not seem to be particularly well-versed in CSP. Interestingly, there is no comparison made to the performance of any other CSP plants, notably, Gemasolar, in Spain, which is performing as, if not better than, expected. However, I vaguely remember reading that BrightSource technology is not the best and it will be interesting to see how the recently commissioned 110MW CSP plant (with molten salt storage), Crescent Dunes, in Tonopah, Nevada, built by Solar Reserve, performs. The Global Tracker at http://www.csptoday.com shows that there are a lot of CSP projects happening. It is a proven technology but BrightSource may not be its best exponent.

      • Giles 5 years ago

        This is a repeat of the same stories written last year. They are comparing output on first year with targeted output in 2018. Brightsource have always said they would ramp up to that figure. Most nuclear plants do the same thing, operating in first few years at reduced capacity, to ensure everything sorted. This is also the first of its kind, so not surprising it has some issues thrown at it.

        • barrie harrop 5 years ago

          Last year WSJ item was about frying the American Eagle other native birds with this solar tower.

    • Alan S 5 years ago

      ‘Some costly high-tech solar power projects aren’t living up to promises their backers made about how much electricity they could generate’. Not ‘complete failure’ as I read it.

    • Alastair Leith 5 years ago

      From the HuffPost article with similar headline:


      “During startup we have experienced … equipment challenges, typical with any new technology, combined with irregular weather patterns,” NRG spokesman Jeff Holland said in a statement. “We are confident that Ivanpah’s long-term generation projections will meet expectations.”

      Holland said the company always expected a ramp-up period of four years to reach maximum output. That extended period was not publicly disclosed, however. Holland said it is outlined in confidential agreements with two California utilities buying the power, Southern California Edison and Pacific Gas and Electric Co.

      Brightsource said on its website that the weather has generally been substantially worse than historical averages — in other words, cloudy — resulting in reduced output in certain months.

      “We remain confident that over time the sun at Ivanpah will be more than sufficient for the plant to meet its expected performance targets,” the statement said.

      • barrie harrop 5 years ago

        Alastair, please do not bet your house on info from the Huffington Post.

        • Alastair Leith 5 years ago

          luckily I didn’t. those are quotes. are disputing that they have a four year ramp period to bring to market what is for Brightsource a new technology? or are you disputing that they can overcome their technology issues? or are you disputing that output of solarCST is directly proportional to insolation?

          • barrie harrop 5 years ago

            Given the outcome so far,i do not expect anymore of these projects to be developed it’s simply not competitive to PV ,several issues these days Bankers/Govts have a lot to do with decisions to fund–equity investors need to get serious returns ,one will need a good set of lungs to wait for any kind of decent returns here on initial results .

        • Coley 5 years ago

          Or from the WSJ

    • Waltzin Matilda 4 years ago

      I decided to take a look at Barrie’s LinkedIn profile, since he is always referring to them as though they were some paragon arbiter of professional qualifications, rather than Facebook for Self-Proclaimed Movers and Shakers. In other words, just another website, albeit one specializing in ‘social networking’ for elite statists.

      I was hoping to find something there showing his educational background, but alas, I was to be disappointed. So, we must just accept, on faith, that Barrie is a graduate in good standing of East Overshoe Middle School for Wayward Boys, located, paradoxically, in West Overshoe, Australia. (See the HEMA Australia Touring Guide, page 83. It’s located about 35 KM west of the Connie Sue Highway, between Premier Downs and Neale Junction.)
      His teacher there, Miss Elizabeth McCampbell remembers Barrie as “Given to wild flights of fancy. Rather poor in grammar, diction and spelling. About what one would expect, all things. considered.”

      So, on to his occupational record, where, amongst the self-promoting puffery to be expected from a site of this sort, we see listed the following:

      Environmental Services industry
      Retail industry (2 entries)
      Consumer Goods industry
      Government Administration industry
      Entertainment industry
      Real Estate industry (4 entries)
      Food & Beverages industry

      Seems to have moved about a good bit, wouldn’t you say? Oh well, when you can’t make a go of one thing, just move on to something else.

      For several years, he had a windmill scam going, based on “Global Warming”. Apparently that wasn’t working out, so he has moved on.

      But, folks… We all owe Barrie a apology. Who could deny that having been a soda jerk, selling cold ice cream on hot days, would make Barrie an expert on ‘global warming’? (Wendy’s Supa Sundaes Pty Ltd, November 1979 — August 1980)

      As we can see, he’s at least as well qualified as the hair dressers and landscapers listed among the oft-cited ‘2000 scientists’.

      After all, his former position in snake oil… errrrrrrrr.. lightning rod… ummmmmm I mean windmill sales placed him at the very apex of the scientific community, and his proclamations should be given the weight to which they are entitled.

      Waltzin Matilda

    • Greg Hudson 4 years ago

      Click bait to a subscription. Very ordinary Barry.

  2. Peter F 5 years ago

    It seems that the hybrid PV/CSP model may be worth a look. All the heat from the CSP system is stored for use in evening peak and overnight while the PV panels export through the same transmission infrastructure during the sunny part of the day. I am guessing such a plant would have 20-30% lower cost per MW.hr than a purely CSP plant. There a number of such plants being built in Chile

  3. Stan 5 years ago

    Look closely at Port Augusta and you will see a CSP power tower plant being built today – without subsidies.

    CSP delivers thermal energy which can be converted into electricity or used in process heat applications like desalination. However, PV can only make electricity and today battery storage systems are still very expensive. But with time, all these costs will continue to fall. It will take a portfolio of RE technologies to achieve G7 goals with aid from subsidies. Wind still enjoys the PTC and PV and CSP the 30% ITC. Each of the RE technologies is strong in its own way and can be blended to achieve the best overall price or lowest levelized cost of energy/electricity. It is easy to be ignorant about the technologies by limiting ones sources of information from journalists who most don’t have science, engineering or business degrees. So take what they write with a grain of salt as their purpose is to sell stories – not discuss facts. CSP/PV hybrid solutions delivering both power and thermal energy do pencil out. It’s a good way to go by combining cheap CSP storage with cheap real time PV generation from solar resources. And there are several types of CSP technologies (towers, troughs, Fresnel), each delivering different energy properties suited for different applications. Time for some readers to do their homework and review more of the technical publications than relying on tabloid news articles before commenting and looking foolish.

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