An Australian-based clean energy company has developed world-leading solar thermal storage technology and has plans to develop a concentrated solar thermal plant (CSP) in Port Augusta.
Vast Solar is an innovator in CSP, which delivers low-cost renewable energy that is reliable, controllable and dispatchable. The CSP plant gathers solar energy during the day and stores it as heat in the molten salt tanks. When needed, it uses the stored heat to make steam to drive a turbine that generates electricity.
Known as VS1, the Port Augusta plant will use Vast Solar’s modular tower CSP technology to produce clean, low-cost, dispatchable power available on demand.
Vast Solar’s Head of Construction Lachlan Roberts said the company had had its eyes on the South Australian town for some time.
“Vast has been considering a project in Port Augusta because of strong solar resources, the local community and grid connection,” he said, adding that the project will see many benefits to the region.
“Our technology is more akin, in some respects, to a traditional power station because we need to create steam and turn the turbine, which means that we need operators.
“Our value proposition to a community like Port Augusta is yes, we bring construction work. But unlike, say, wind, when the construction is finished, we provide the opportunity for ongoing long- term employment for a period of 25 to 30 years. And for all intents and purposes, it will run a long time beyond that.”
Vast Solar’s CSP technology involves novel heat collection and transfer technologies, along with integrated storage. This means it can generate and then dispatch affordable renewable energy 24 hours a day.
Vast Solar has a CSP pilot project in the central west New South Wales, and is also developing a project in Mt Isa, Queensland.
The pilot plant by scale is 1MW, while the Port August plant will be 30MW, with eight hours of storage.
“So, if it’s compared to a battery, batteries are large scale but only go for a very short period of time,” Lachlan said.
“Whereas our technology – CSP – it’s all about long duration storage. It becomes economic when it’s big, and you’re powering overnight. Batteries don’t do that, they only do one or two hours.”
CSP has been on the agenda for Port Augusta for some time.
“A previous company did a significant amount of work to develop the site, which meant reaching agreement with the pastoralists and getting all the development application work done,” Lachlan said.
While that project did not get off the ground, when Vast Solar acquired half of the Silicon Aurora renewable energy plant, near Port Augusta, from energy storage innovators 1414 Degrees, the two technology companies came to a joint venture arrangement which will see Vast Solar develop VS1 on the site.
“This really allowed us to fast track, the delivery of this project” Lachlan said.
“Negotiating with all the government departments, pastoralists, and then doing all the development application work, it does take years.
“And very importantly, also, is that there has been a weather monitoring station on that site for a long period of time. So, we know very accurately, the actual details of the solar resource, not just an estimate. And that’s important for when we’re out raising debt, the bankers want to know exactly how much sunshine falls across that area.”
Meanwhile, in the 2022-23 Budget process, the Australian Government agreed to negotiate with Vast Solar the terms of concessional finance of up to $110 million to support the project. Vast Solar is also going through the process of applying for an Australian Renewable Energy Agency grant.
The company is looking to get financial close next year and then proceed with detailed engineering necessary for procurement.
“All approvals are close. Funding is progressing well. And the connection process is underway, with ElectraNET,” Lachlan said.
Vast Solar is working with ICN to identify local capacity and capability for the VS1 project, which will comprise:
- Eight modular solar arrays, each with heliostats, receiver and control system
- an insulated interconnecting pipe header, creating the pathway for collected heat to flow from the receivers to the central power block
- A central power block with molten salt thermal storage tanks, steam generation system and a 30 MW steam turbine
- plant equipment, including water and wastewater treatment
- an operations building and maintenance warehouse