CANBERRA— Energy experts on Tuesday hailed the South Australian government’s decision to build the world’s largest solar thermal power plant as a very exciting development for clean energy in Australia.
Late on Monday, South Australian Premier Jay Weatherill announced that construction on a 150-megawatt solar thermal power plant would begin in the town of Port Augusta in 2018 at a cost of 650 million Australian dollars (USD 512 million).
According to the government, the power plant will be the biggest of its kind in the world and would employ the use of mirrors to reflect light and heat to form concentrated solar power (CSP) and provide up to 100 percent of the state government’s needs.
On Tuesday, experts applauded the announcement of the groundbreaking facility, which would also include a battery to store up to eight hours’ worth of electricity in case of emergency.
Dr. John Pye, an energy expert at the Australian National University (ANU), said it was “very exciting to see large-scale CSP finally coming to Australia.”
“This project, like all large projects in the global CSP market, are critically important in helping CSP to ‘come down the cost curve’ and allowing CSP to take up a role in the wide range of technologies that needed for around-the-clock, fossil-free power for Australia anywhere else where the sun shines brightly,” Pye said in a statement on Tuesday.
“Beyond CSP for electricity, at ANU we think that CSP will one day be the answer to de-carbonizing a wide range of industrial heat applications, and maybe even a way for Australia to export higher-value renewably-processed metals, instead of raw materials like ore.”
Professor Samantha Hepburn, director of the Centre for Energy and Natural Resource Law (CENRL), said not only will the plant provide South Australia with a more secure electricity grid, it also “coheres with climate change imperatives”.
“The proposal will help to make the market more competitive and coheres with climate change imperatives,” she said in a statement.
“In the current phase of renewable transition, however, with steady industry development and stronger government support, the project looks positive.”
Meanwhile, Dr. Ariel Liebman from Monash University said the CSP solar thermal power plant would complement Tesla founder Elon Musk’s South Australian battery storage project, announced last month.
“The Port Augusta Solar Thermal plant will be a great complement to the range of new technologies now in South Australia and the rest of the nation such as the wind, solar PV and electric battery such as the Neoen/Tesla battery announced last month,” Liebman said.
When announcing the plant on Monday night, Premier Jay Weatherill declared catastrophic blackouts — such as those experienced in South Australia over summer — would be a thing of the past once the solar thermal plant and Tesla’s battery storage facility are completed.
“This, in addition to our state-owned gas plant, and the world’s largest lithium ion battery, will help to make our energy grid more secure,” Weatherill said.