The South Australian state government has approved the construction of a 150-megawatt solar thermal power plant.
The AU $650 million (US $510 million) structure will be built in Port Augusta and is slated for completion by 2020. It will be the largest such facility in the world once built.
California-based SolarReserve was awarded with the contract. The company is also behind the 110-megawatt Crescent Dunes Solar Energy Plant in Nevada, the world’s first utility-scale solar thermal power plant.
Solar thermal plants are different from traditional photovoltaic panels on rooftops and solar farms around the world. These plants, also known as concentrated solar plants (CSP), consists of a large field of mirrors to concentrate the sun’s rays to heat molten salt, which then produces superheated steam to drive a generator’s turbines.
A major advantage to this type of power plant is how it can store up to eight hours of molten salt thermal energy storage, allowing for power usage when needed.
“The significance of solar thermal generation lies in its ability to provide energy virtually on demand through the use of thermal energy storage to store heat for running the power turbines,” said sustainable energy engineering professor Wasim Saman, from the University of South Australia. “This is a substantially more economical way of storing energy than using batteries.”
This technology is critical for South Australia, which has been plagued by blackouts. Australia itself also has a major gas shortage is looming and its decades-old coal plants are shutting down, sparking potential price hikes and putting energy security at risk.
Looks like the state is firmly placing its bet on renewables. The state government also recently approved the construction of the world’s largest battery farm in the Riverland region with help from Tesla.