Commercialized concentrated Solar is one step closer.

ARENA funding will help a first-of-its-kind concentrated solar power project with a cost exceeding $200 million.

ARENA supports a unique concentrated thermal solar power (CSP) plant in Port Augusta.

The conditional approval of up to $65 Million in ARENA funding has been granted for the $203 million project. The funding will be available when the project is completed, which is expected to happen in late 2023.

The Australian company Vast Solar is building the 30 MW / 2888 MWh (called VS1) plant using its modular CSP technologies.

The project is expected to begin commercial operations in late 2025. It aims to demonstrate that the technology can be used at a utility-scale. The project, if successful, will show that concentrated solar thermal energy can provide scalable and dispatchable green energy to Australia’s market.

The video below was recorded in 2018 and explained the basic principles of concentrated thermal solar power and its increasing role in commercial renewable energy mixes.

ARENA CEO Darren Miller stated that the expansion of Vast’s technology to a commercial-scale project shows that concentrated solar thermal technology can play a significant role in generating and storing renewable energy on a large scale.

Concentrated solar thermal, pumped hydro, and large-scale batteries could help Australia achieve its energy transition.

“Vast Solar has been a leader in the development of solar thermal technologies for many years.” With its considerable technical and commercial experience, they are in an excellent position to deliver Australia’s largest CSP plant. This should provide power at a cost competitive with other renewable energy sources.

What is CSP?

CSP, or CST as it is sometimes called, uses mirrors (heliostats) to focus the sun’s warmth onto solar receivers at high temperatures.

Vast Solar transfers heat using liquid sodium stored in molten-salt reservoirs.

The thermal energy can then be used to produce steam, drive a turbine, or electricity. Or to be used directly in some industrial processes.

CSP’s long storage period is a cost-effective advantage over PV solar panels. CSP can generate electricity and heat at any time, even overnight.

Most CSP plants that produce electricity worldwide have 3-15 hours of thermal energy storage.

Chemical batteries that store electrical energy rely on rare or in-demand constituents, such as cobalt and lithium. While sodium is the sixth-most element on Earth, salts suitable for energy storage also occur in abundance.

Modular design

Some forms of concentrated solar thermal energy look like illustrations from science fiction.

The sun’s energy is focused by hundreds of heliostats in geometric patterns atop an enormous central tower. These arrays are massive. It is a problem that if anything goes wrong in the “tower” of power, it will affect the entire system.

Vast Solar uses a modular system. While still using multiple Heliostats in its arrays, they are smaller, and the focus is on less intimidating towers. This technology can be scaled up by adding more buildings and mirrors to repetitive collections.

Vast Solar claims its system utilizes prefabricated mirrors and intelligent control of multiple collectors. These two factors work together to deliver lower costs and more efficient energy storage and capture.

ARENA has been supporting Vast solar technology since 2012. The funding included $ 9.9 million towards the 1,1 MW CSP pilot plant in Jemalong (New South Wales).

Craig Wood, CEO at Vast Solar, said: “We appreciate ARENA’s support over the years. Their understanding of the CSP technology’s potential is a testimony to the Australian government’s ambition to provide cost-competitive renewable energy that can be dispatched to support local jobs and industries while helping to maintain emissions reduction goals.

Vast Solar has also received conditional funding of $19.48m from the Australian Government and ARENA through the cooperative HyGATE with Germany. The grant will support Vast Solar’s Solar Methanol Production Plant, a 10 MW electrolyzer that produces green hydrogen for solar methanol.

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