Aurora, the world's largest solar thermal plant coming to Port Augusta
Author: Elise Catterall
Not long after the recent closures of its coal-driven power stations, South Australia’s Port Augusta is now putting its abundant sunshine to use with a solar thermal plant that will produce power that is completely emission-free.
US operator Solar Reserve has, on tender, secured the rights to begin construction of the Aurora Solar Energy plant, 30kms north of Port Augusta. Construction will begin in 2018 and the plant, which will be the largest of its kind in the world, is expected to be up and running by 2020.
The 150-megawatt power plant will be large enough to supply 100% of South Australia’s energy needs. The South Australian government will first cover its own energy use, and any excess be returned to the grid. The plant will also be able to provide up to 10 hours of storage, providing reliable baseload power.
The plant uses mirrors called ‘heliostats’ – thousands of them – to reflect and concentrate sunlight onto a 227m tower that heats molten salt. That heat then operates a steam turbine that generates electricity. The design of the plant will copy Solar Reserve’s US-based solar thermal power plant in the state of Nevada.
At a cost of $650 million, Aurora will, in part, be funded by a $110 million federal loan that was orchestrated between the federal government and Independent Senator Nick Xenophon.
Senator Xenophon has said the plant will ‘lead to more stable energy in the market, which would lead to lower power prices’. South Australia has been subject to blackouts over the past few summers, so stability is an appealing feature of the plant.
The boost to local employment that the plant will bring is another important feature. The economy of Port Augusta suffered with the closure of Alinta Energy’s coal-fired power station in 2016 – then the city’s largest employer. It is anticipated that approximately 650 jobs will be created during the construction phase, and 50 full-time workers will be employed once the plant is operational.
Added to these social and economic benefits, is the positive environmental effect of supplying baseload power with zero carbon emissions.
For more than five years local residents and businesses, as well as climate and renewable energy groups have been campaigning for solar thermal energy. On announcing the project, SA premier Jay Weatherill said: “We are supporting this nation-leading renewable energy project because it will deliver more competition into our energy market and put downward pressure on power prices for households and businesses. The Aurora Solar Energy Project will enhance South Australia’s reputation as a leader in clean, cheap renewable energy. “
Dr Mark Diesendorf, Associate Professor and Deputy Director of the Institute of Environmental Studies at the University of New South Wales, has hailed the decision, saying: “Port Augusta’s concentrated solar thermal power station with thermal storage will be a dispatchable source of renewable power. In other words, it will supply power on demand”. Wasim Saman, Professor of Sustainable Energy Engineering at the University of South Australia, reiterated this position: “The significance of solar thermal generation lies in its ability to provide energy virtually on demand through the use of thermal energy storage”.
Good news for South Australia and the nation at large.
- Read more about the Aurora plant
- Watch the videos from The Advertiser to understand how solar thermal works and how the plant will be built
- Explore green power options for your own electricity use
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Positive Environment News has been compiled using publicly available information. Planet Ark does not take responsibility for the accuracy of the original information and encourages readers to check the references before using this information for their own purposes.
Author: Elise Catterall
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