World's biggest solar tower + storage plant to begin generation this month | RenewEconomy

World’s biggest solar tower + storage plant to begin generation this month

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World’s first large-scale solar tower+storage facility to start generating this month, with storage at fraction of cost of battery offerings.

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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.

The ACT solar + storage tender is also of interest, as is the push by the community in Port Augusta to replace their ageing brown coal power generators with solar towers and storage.

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.


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  1. Ron Horgan 5 years ago

    So the future might have both large solar thermal and PV plants, supplying power to grids with large battery storage, and also smaller distributed PV with battery storage.
    Not either or, but a robust selection of renewables tailored to the optimum needs of each community.
    I will go to sleep with a smile at this prospect.

    • Jacob 5 years ago

      This might be suitable for aluminium smelters and other huge users of power.

      Homes can go off grid using solar PV and batteries.

  2. Colin Nicholson 5 years ago

    why not use large molten salt storages driven by PV to power current power stations?

    • Matthew Wright 5 years ago

      Because they’re usually in regions with poor solar radiation whereas you want to locate these in regions with stellar solar radiation.
      AND existing powerplants may not have a steam cycle that is ideally suited to the 565C operating temp of these systems.. Amongst other reasons.

      • David Osmond 5 years ago

        I’m keen to see how the solar thermal vs PV + battery scenario plays out. My understanding is that while PV will still produce on cloudy days, the concentrating technologies don’t. So while solar thermal may have cheaper storage than batteries, you may need a lot more of it.

    • Giles 5 years ago

      And i would suspect that PV is probably a pretty inefficient way of heating molten salt. Best do that with heat.

      • Susan Kraemer 5 years ago

        Yes, Halotechnics was going to offer standalone storage for PV/or wind powered electricity to heat the storage fluid, but the economics are not there because of the inefficiency. Still, cheaper than batteries at utility-scale.

        • Alastair Leith 3 years ago

          Conversion of molten salt to superheated steam and driving turbines has large energy conversion losses. Batteries, while more costly, don’t have such high inefficiency.

  3. Jacob 5 years ago

    Giles, it is called solar thermal. As opposed to solar PV.

    • Catprog 5 years ago

      It appears to be both.

      • Peter F 5 years ago

        The idea is simple the electrical infrastructure, transformers, grid connection etc. is a significant part of the plant. If you size it for say 110MW and install 150MW of solar PV located at varying angles to the sun you can supply 100MW+ from the PV modules for 3-5 hours a day. In the meantime all the energy from the heliostats is heating the salt and then as PV scales down the CSP plant takes over meaning that for the same size CSP installation you can get much better utilisation of the site infrastructure and much more reliable supply to the customers.

    • Giles 5 years ago

      Huh? They are building solar PV plants alongside the solar thermal (CSP/Solar tower) plants. Two different technologies.

      • Jacob 5 years ago

        That is a strange power plant then.

    • Susan Kraemer 5 years ago

      No, it used to be called solar thermal in the 1980s. Then the name changed to CSP: Concentrated Solar Power. Or in Europe – CST, concentrated solar thermal. The idea was to distinguish this massively concentrated technology able to heat a liquid to 1,050 degrees F and run a power block turbine system off the steam – from the passive solar thermal using the suns warmth to warm a liquid that homeowners use to warm swimming pools.

  4. Jason 5 years ago

    Is the technology in Spain different than this solar thermal? No mention Spain has nothing this size but many 50MW CSP plants. ..also wondering if this technology will come to QLD on the back of the government recent announcement of 50% renewable energy by 2030!!!
    Very exciting times!

    • Alen T 5 years ago

      To be aiming for 50% RE in 15 years and not at least build one CST with storage would be a big and serious tragedy. I’m optimistic this won’t be case, and I look forward to finally seeing the state realise its full solar potential.

  5. Concerned 5 years ago

    But it does not work in winter,anywhere.

    • Michaelinlondon1234 5 years ago

      But it is a great toy…Refocus it and you can cook planes flying over head. Might even be able to melt satellites. It would be interesting to see what range you could get out of it. Before diffusion degrades the light. Could you melt your initials in the face of the moon.. That is the big question.

      • Alastair Leith 3 years ago

        It’s hard enough for them to get even spread of focus on the receiver, forget about melting a point on the moon.

    • abulinix 5 years ago

      Total nonsense. Why don’t you educate yourself.

      • Concerned 5 years ago

        Really?To make it work in winter you need to increase the collector field 4 times that needed in summer,or you need gas backup..See David Mills et al,and data from Spain.
        Totally uneconomic.
        Gen 3 And then Gen 4 nuclear ,reliable all year and a fraction of the cost.
        Better outcome.

        • Peter F 5 years ago

          Fraction of the cost????. Latest Gen 3 projects are between $150 and $200 per MW hr. plus cost over-runs and 10-15 year delivery. (see Hinckley Point

          What is wrong with wind and hydro as backup, both much cheaper than nuclear.

          All power systems need backup in case of maintenance and breakdown, Just as we have open cycle gas turbines doing nothing for most of the year to back up existing coal, this system is part of the diversification of a fully renewable system, but the advantage of small units like this is you need much less total backup than with large units. Texan studies show that “spinning reserves” for coal cost more over their life than hydro/pumped hydro for solar and wind.

  6. Michaelinlondon1234 5 years ago

    It will be interesting to see what sort of environmental damage it causes.

    • Andrew Curtis 5 years ago

      This technology consumes almost no resources and causes essentially zero damage. It’s basically a lot of heat to melt salt, which boils water to produce steam to turn a turbine. Nothing dangerous. The only potential objection to this tech in my mind, It used to kill birds, was recently solved too.

      When the generator was offline the heliostats would focus their energy in a space in the sky above the tower but it was killing birds that flew into it instantly. But they solved that by refocusing the heliostats so that there was no more than the non-lethal amount of ‘4 suns’ of energy in any one spot where the heliostats were focussed while offline.

      • Michaelinlondon1234 5 years ago

        non-lethal amount of ‘4 suns’ of energy? That is a contradiction to start of with. Step out side and look at the sun directly That is one sun. How long will your eyesight last? How long will a blind bird last in the environment?
        So you do not have instant roast bird falling out of the sky. This is good.
        Another contradiction….. technology consumes almost no resources.
        It consumes sunlight over 269 acres.
        Maths is not my strong point but if you did a double cone and worked out the volume of air being heated. Then presumably fluid dynamics to work out how that column of heated air reacts in the environment. Plug it in to one of the more robust weather models for the area and see what sort of effect it has.At night since I guess the land is cooler than the surrounding it will draw heat out of the surrounding environment. That can be modelled as well.
        So it will act like a giant pump?.
        One needs to keep in mind it is in a desert on a major moist air route from the pacific. For all I know it might be too small a structure to have a long term effect. Important to mention that they are in the process of draining the aquifers in the region to irrigate crops. Ask the climate scientists.
        There are some good things about it.
        You shade the earth which reduces evaporation. and decreases soil temperature.
        Getting in to blue sky thinking.
        Cut swales on contour and collection ponds for surface run-off. across the whole of the site. Shade cloth around its perimeter with misters and you could cool/moisturise the whole valley. Assuming they repair the aquifers.
        Total land area is 16000 acres. Plant trees on the rest if you do the swales and surface ponds?
        A couple of youngsters looking to do phd’s in the earth sciences to do the model’s and collect data over 12 months?
        Honestly I do not know what all the unintended consequences are.

        • Andrew Curtis 5 years ago

          I get what you are saying about it sounding contradictory but trusting that the reports in that article I linked to are true and accurate, their real world testing shows that 4 suns isn’t detrimental to any of the bird life flying through it.

          • Michaelinlondon1234 5 years ago

            Put Birds in a solar simulator and find out. I have to admit I would not like to get hit with full spectrum light at 4 suns in a desert..
            I doubt many birds are around any way. So it should not be an issue.
            I work with light far more intense than this.

        • Ian 5 years ago

          Air is transparent so the sunlight travelling through it is not heated. Only when the light strikes an opaque object does it heat that object. Actually the mirrors should cool the surface of the land on which they stand as they reflect the radiant energy of the sun onto the receiver on top of the tower. That heat is stored in salt and released at night in the process of producing electricity. The waste heat is radiated out to the night sky. One of the problems of desert areas is the intense heating of the ground in the day , and by conduction, heating the air above it, creating a localised high pressure system . This drives any moisture-bearing air away. These solar towers may actually act as artificial forests to encourage the return of moist air to desert areas. I wonder if anyone has thought of that! Imagine Saudi Arabia’s empty quarter filled with these things generating masses of electricity for them and allowing moist monsoonal air to return after a hiatus of 5000 years.

          • Michaelinlondon1234 5 years ago

            I agree while air is transparent. It does absorb full spectrum light energy. Depending on its density,how much dust and moisture it contains will determine how much energy it absorbs and its behaviour.
            Saudi Arabia’s empty quarter is gradually being filled with irrigated crops. Take some time with the satellite maps and have a fly over.
            There are also German experiments going on in the Egyptian desert with rebuilding soils and forests.

      • Michaelinlondon1234 5 years ago

        I should have said environmental changes. not damage.

  7. comicfanwayback 5 years ago

    The combination of commercial scale PV tech with CSP using thermal storage can be a very disruptive tech. Any tech that may produce a paradigm shift will always encounter resistance. Galileo ran into it. Quantum physics ran into it. Now forward thinking, extensively tested and researched solar power is running into it.

    Humans fear change. Especially change that they can’t make money from, might cut into their power base of influence or exising profit margins.

    Solar Reserve has done their homework, They did the test sites in the 80s and 90s. They resolved the bird kill issue. If someone is still trying to argue about killing birds its like argueing with a pig in the mud. After a while you might notice the pig enjoys it. Some people just like to argue or have an axe to grind/haters.

    I feel sorry for them that they can’t be supportive of tech that reduces fossil fuel use, is friendly to its environment and reduces cost of living over all.

    The CSP that uses thermal storage will probably be the next energy boom.

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