Solar thermal power a cost-effective ingredient for powering a hungry grid

A collaborative research study has shown energy derived from concentrating solar thermal power (CST) can be a cost-effective solution to augmenting Australia's power grid, saving almost a $1b in network investment.

With electricity prices rising steeply across the country, the study reveals that CST plants, which provide large-scale energy storage, could reduce the need for new electricity poles and wires and help cut consumer energy bills. At the same time, using CST plants in the national grid could provide a pathway to significant investment in CST in Australia.

The study examined the benefits of installing CST at key points in electricity networks where major network investment is planned to cope with growth in demand or with problems with voltage.

The Australian Solar Thermal Energy Association (AUSTELA) led the research collaboration that included the University of Technology, Sydney's Institute for Sustainable Futures (ISF), the University of NSW, and Queensland-based Ergon Energy.

Read more:

Ivanpah 392 MW concentrated solar project now online

The world's biggest concentrated solar power project is connected to the grid after spending January offline, SolarServer reported. Data analyzed by renewable energy consultant Bernard Chabot shows little power production at the 392 megawatt Ivanpah Solar Thermal Project, which covers 3,500 acres in San Bernardino County in California. Energy firm NRG Energy, tech company Google and CSP firm BrightSource Energy own the Ivanpah Solar Electric Generating System.

Combining thermal and solar energy generation, the Ivanpah project uses over 300,000 mirrors to reflect sunlight to boilers held on three 459-foot towers, the website for the project said.

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Breaking the Solar Gridlock Workshop

Events on solving network constraints and improving the economics of concentrating solar power (CSP)

Receive training on Australian tools designed to assist project developers, financiers, regulators, network planners and engineers with siting CSP plants and evaluate their economic performance, including potential new income streams. Hear from lead researchers, policy makers, network businesses and renewable energy advocates on the status of CSP in Australia and overseas, current projects and funding opportunities, and key findings from two ground breaking ARENA-funded research projects.

Download the Event Flyer for more information 

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Media Release. Minister for Resources and Energy

Calculating the prospects of solar thermal
25 July 2013

Resources and Energy Minister Gary Gray today launched new online tools supported by the Australian Renewable Energy Agency that will help researchers, developers and financiers assess the commercial prospects of Concentrating Solar Thermal power projects in Australia.

"Concentrating solar thermal systems have the potential to play a significant role in future electricity networks as they can store energy, which means clean energy can be dispatched to homes and businesses at anytime of the day or night," Mr Gray said.

"Through ARENA, the Government is investing in technologies and projects that will increase the use of renewable energy in Australia.

"These new tools – which will optimise an industry-leading United States model for Australian conditions – will make it easier for developers and financiers to assess the commercial viability of concentrating solar thermal projects."

Read the full Media Release (external Link) 

New research study seeks to quantify the network benefits from deploying solar thermal electricity generation in the NEM

Electricity network augmentation costs are currently the largest contributor to regulated electricity cost increases in Australia’s National Electricity Market, contributing nearly half of the average 18% increase in prices that took effect in New South Wales on 1 July 2012.

Recent studies in Europe, the US and Australia have identified potential for concentrating solar thermal (CST) generation to assist in reducing future network augmentation costs.

Network investment of over $45 billion is planned across Australia in the current regulatory period to 2014/15, with almost $15 billion of this investment driven by capacity constraints due to increasing peak demand.  A similar level of network investment may be required in the following period to 2020, and the draft Energy White Paper forecasts network investment of up to $120 billion to 2030.

AUSTELA, the Institute for Sustainable Futures (UTS) and the Centre for Environmental and Energy Markets (UNSW) will shortly commence a new study – ‘The Potential Network Benefits of Solar Thermal Electricity Generation in the NEM’ to:

  • identify and map locations where CST could provide cost-effective network support, and
  • quantify the value that providing network support services could yield for CST electricity generators, and the resulting cost-effective CST capacity that could be installed between now and 2020.

The study is being undertaken in collaboration with major distribution network service providers Essential Energy (NSW) and Ergon Energy (Qld), and with funding from the Australian Renewable Energy Agency (ARENA).

CST output is by nature aligned to Australia’s dominant summer peak demand, and thermal inertia inherent in CST systems provides a high level of predictability for a renewable energy source.   Adding thermal storage increases a CST plant’s capacity factor and dispatchability, allowing CST plants to deliver power when it is most needed in the network.

Because CST can be deployed with or without storage, at a variety of scales, and can be hybridized (for example with biomass or natural gas) grid integration and the potential network services offered by CST systems are remarkably flexible. 

This collaborative study builds on the findings of the recently released review ‘Realising the Potential of Concentrating Solar Power in Australia’, funded by the Australian Solar Institute.  As with that review, the new study is intended to assist regulators, policy-makers, investors and market participants better assess the value and benefits of CST electricity generation in Australia’s energy system.

‘The Potential Network Benefits of Solar Thermal Electricity Generation in the NEM’ commences in September and is due to report by March 2013.

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Contact Details (2)

Australian Solar Thermal Energy Association Ltd
ACN: 149 005 210
c/o IT Power
PO Box 6127
O'Connor
ACT 2602, Australia