Australian solar thermal power innovation company Vast Solar (www.vastsolar.com) announced today it had commenced construction of a 6MWth (1.1MWe) concentrating solar thermal (CST) power pilot plant near Forbes, New South Wales.
The project, which will demonstrate Vast Solar’s low cost, high efficiency CST generation system, is funded by majority private investment with significant support from the Australian Renewable Energy Agency (ARENA).
The first-of-kind project, which includes 3 hours’ thermal storage that will enable the plant to generate electricity day or night on demand, is expected to be operating to supply electricity into the National Energy Market by the end of the year.
Vast Solar’s CEO Andrew Want today said that when completed the Jemalong Solar Thermal Station would be the only standalone solar thermal power plant with thermal energy storage generating power to the grid in Australia.
“Concentrating solar thermal (CST) power is important for Australia and for many sunny regions around the world,” Mr Want said.
“Solar thermal power plants store the sun’s energy very efficiently and at large scale, so solar can be used to deliver power when it is most needed and most valuable, day or night.
“Vast Solar set out in 2009 to develop a low-cost, high performance CST system that could compete commercially. We believe we’ve done that, and this pilot project will demonstrate our system from ‘sun-to-storage-to-grid.
“Our innovations have the potential to deliver a step-change reduction in the cost of solar thermal power – making CST an affordable and practical option for large-scale power generation around the world. We could not have achieved these advances without the strong support of the Australian Renewable Energy Agency, working alongside our private investors, over the past three years.
“The Jemalong Solar Thermal Station is the third phase of Vast Solar’s commercialisation program. Private investors in Australia and Europe have provided over 50% of the funding, with the Commonwealth Government’s Australian Renewable Energy Agency (ARENA) providing the remaining $5 million.”
“Beginning with only three founders, and no funds, we now employ over 20 people and we’re growing fast. Our market is global, but we’ve developed all our technology locally. This is precisely what Australia should be doing – investing in new businesses, new employment and new industries for the future, to compete in global markets,” said Mr Want.
CST power generation uses the sun’s thermal energy. Mirror arrays capture solar energy as heat, and the heat is stored and then released as needed to generate steam to drive a traditional turbine for electricity generation, or for industrial processes such as meat processing, brewing, or minerals processing.
CST systems were first deployed over 100 years ago, but recent advances have seen a resurgence of large-scale CST projects in the USA, South Africa, the Middle East, South America and Europe as these economies rapidly reduce their reliance on fossil fuelled power.
Mr Want said “The challenge for broad uptake of CST is more rapid cost reduction. Vast Solar’s founder and chief technology officer James Fisher saw how smart engineering and design could dramatically reduce CST costs, and in the past 5 years – with the support of our investors and ARENA – we’ve made it happen.
“Vast Solar’s innovative design achieves high efficiency at low cost. The system uses small array modules, with low-profile towers; a very different approach to the most recent large-scale, single tower projects commissioned in the USA.”
The Jemalong Solar Thermal Station pilot will have 6MWth output (1.1MW electrical) and will be connected to the Essential Energy distribution network. The project comprises 5 low profile solar arrays, with a total of 3,500 heliostats (mirrors), 5 towers each less than 30 metres high with thermal energy receivers, and a thermal energy storage system providing enough energy for 3 hours’ full power operation, day or night.
Although the pilot plant will be primarily a research and demonstration plant, it will have an electrical output sufficient to power about 400 average homes.
Vast Solar believes this technology will bring significant economic benefits to the Forbes and broader Central West region, including employment, business tourism and use of local services such as engineering, accounting, and construction services.
“Experience from the USA and Europe shows that up to 70% of the economic value of inputs into a CST plant stays in the local area. This presents a huge opportunity for regional Australia; Central Western NSW being a perfect example.”
ARENA CEO Ivor Frischknecht said “ARENA is very pleased to support Vast Solar. ARENA invests along the innovation chain from R&D to providing support for technologies at a pre-commercial stage. Vast Solar’s technology progression and advancement along the commercialisation pathway demonstrates the value of this investment and important role ARENA plays in developing the energy infrastructure of the future.”
Construction of the Jemalong Solar Thermal Station commenced April and is due for completion before the end of 2014.