CST holds $10 billion key to low-cost green fuels in Australia

Aerial photo of a concentrating solar thermal (CST) plant in Israel
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Australia could be $10 billion better off by 2050 with the uptake of concentrating solar thermal (CST) in its electricity systems and the technology can cut the cost of green fuel production by up to 40%, according to a new report commissioned by the Australian Solar Thermal Research Institute (ASTRI).

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The Australian Concentrating Solar Thermal Value Proposition, prepared by international engineering firm Fichtner assisted by ITP Thermal, assesses CST’s role and value across four Australian use cases: grid connected power; remote area power (mining); industrial process heat; and green fuels production.

For grid connected power, it shows steady CST growth in the National Electricity Market (NEM) and South West Interconnected System (SWIS) could avoid investment in alternative high-cost storage options, delivering around $10 billion of societal benefits by 2050. Fichtner and ITP use more detailed modelling to better reflect CST’s value and show it compares favourably with alternative technologies and is often the lowest-cost option.

ASTRI director Dominic Zaal says, “This is a major report for CST in Australia which shows the true value of the technology and can be a catalyst for the industry. The report suggests establishing policies that encourage smooth growth of long-duration renewable energy storage, such as CST, can save billions of dollars in reaching net zero while maximising local economic benefit and adding to diversity in energy supply.”

CST is well-suited to Australia, with 85% of Australia’s land mass recording DNI levels considered suitable for efficient use of the technology. Thanks to these favourable conditions another major opportunity identified in the report is in mass production of green fuels, which benefit from CST’s ability to deliver combined heat and power in a controlled manner. The report’s modelling found that adding CST to the energy supply mix and combining it with other renewable sources delivered a reduction in production costs of up to 8% for ammonia and up to 40% for methanol (using direct air capture).

Zaal added, “The findings have significant implications for green fuel production and the potential for the shipping and aviation industries to decarbonise quicker and at lower cost. Australia has an unrivalled opportunity to become a superpower in green fuels production, which can be exported to help the world achieve emissions reduction targets.”

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Despite these opportunities and the Australian Government investing around $200 million in R&D in CST, Australia is yet to deploy CST at commercial scale even as other countries are racing ahead in deploying the technology (7GW in operation globally and another 3GW under construction). The report goes on to state that: “energy market and policy settings will need to adjust to properly reflect the value that has been identified, with a particular focus on multi-hour intraday energy storage and dispatchable power generation”.

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