The world’s first large scale solar tower and storage facility is scheduled to start electricity production within the next two weeks, with full commercial production due to begin a month later.
US company Solar Reserve is currently putting the finishing touches to the 110MW Crescent Dunes solar tower and storage plant in Tonopah, Nevada. With 10 hours of storage, it will deliver a block of power each day to service Las Vegas between noon and until 12am or 2am.
“We’re producing steam now, and we will start commissioning the steam turbine soon,” Tom Georgis, the head of development told RenewEconomy at the Australian Solar Council conference in Melbourne. “We will be delivering electricity this month, and full commercial delivery by early July.”
Solar towers and storage – delivered in Solar Reserve’s case by molten salt situated at the top of a giant tower and receiver and heated by thousands of heliostats, is considered to the next big thing in solar technology, because of its ability to provide “dispatch able” energy, a key in modern flexible grids.
“It’s a renewable energy facility that will be delivering into the night,” Georgis says. “It is a unique facility and will demonstrate the value of storage.”
It is the first of three such projects that is expected to kick-start a move to large scale solar projects that – because of storage – can act as baseload power plants, peaking power plants (responding to changes in demand or supply), or whatever use the customer needs.
The other two plants to be built are in South Africa and Chile.
Solar tower and storage has been largely sidelined in the excitement about individual and grid scale battery storage opportunities, particularly with the cost reductions and marketing appeal of the newly announced Tesla products.
Georgis noted that Crescent Dunes will have 110MW capacity and 10 hours of storage. That is the equivalent of 1,100MWh of storage. “There is no battery solution that can be installed within 10 times the price of what we offer with this technology,” he said.
Solar Reserve’s main customers could well be miners, and economies with surging energy needs.
In Chile, a major plant is to be built for mining customers, and like those in South Africa, the plants are being pared with large scale solar PV.
The Copiapó CSP-PV hybrid project will feature two 130 MW solar towers with 14 hours of molten salt-based storage, that will be combined with a 150 MW PV plant. That will provide 260 MW of 24/7 baseload electricity.
The inclusion of solar PV reduces the cost of the energy produced, but the storage facility enables Solar Reserve to balance and shape intermittency of the solar PV inside the plant. The solar PV will account for around one third of the energy produced.
Indeed, Solar Reserve’s partner in the Redstone facility in South Africa, the Saudi firm ACWA Power, said earlier this year that the combination of solar tower and storage and solar PV will enable baseload power to be delivered to the Middle East and Africa at a lower cost than conventional fossil fuel technologies.
In Australia, Solar Reserve is focusing on the mining and resources sector, especially new mines.
Georgis says solar towers and storage can easily compete with diesel, the main fuel used on remote mines. Crescent Dunes, with the help of subsidized loans, is delivering its energy to Las Vegas at a cost of $US135/MWh.
The first South Africa plant at Redstone – with no subsidies – will deliver energy at around $US124/MWh, as RenewEconomy revealed in January. That was a 20 reduction in capex costs, and the first Chilean plant will show a 24 per cent cut in capital costs.
“We need to reach a certain price point where it would be almost impossible for mining sector to discount the technology risk,” Georgis said.
That would make Crescent Dunes a crucial development, because it would mean prospective customers, and financiers, could see it in operation. Already, four different Chilean mining companies had booked visits to the facility once it is operating in July.