Jemalong pilot plant to prove concentrated solar power technology

The first three concentrated solar power unites of Spain’s Solnova Solar Power Station in the foreground, with the PS10 and Ps20 solar power towers in the background
The first three concentrated solar power unites of Spain’s Solnova Solar Power Station in the foreground, with the PS10 and Ps20 solar power towers in the background
  • The 6MW Jemalong solar thermal pilot plant will use Concentrated Solar Power (CSP) generation technology
  • Plans for larger projects with longer storage with capacities of up to 30MW are in progress
  • Storage costs around $25 a kilowatt an hour compared to lithium ion batteries which cost about $300 a kilowatt hour

The $210 million Jemalong solar thermal pilot plant near Forbes in central New South Wales is set for commissioning in mid-January, the first to use what is hoped to be a low-cost, high-efficiency Concentrated Solar Power (CSP) generation technology in Australia.

Vast Solar has constructed the 6MW project, which includes three hours of storage, as a test project to prove the viability and cost effectiveness of CSP technology.

Five modules of 700 mirrors – or heliostats – will concentrate the sun’s energy onto a receiver mounted on a 27m high tower. Sodium will then be pumped through the receiver where it will be heated up to 565°C and stored in a tank. When power is needed, the hot sodium will be put through a steam generator, which will boil the water, generating steam and driving the turbine in the same way a coal-fired plant operates, according to ABC News.

Plans for larger projects with longer storage with capacities of up to 30MW are in progress, but Vast Solar will assess the performance of the pilot plant in addition to the investment landscape before pursuing them.

The company’s engineer James Fisher said traditional solar or PV power production converted the sun’s energy directly into electricity, which then had to be stored in expensive batteries. He said the difference with CSP was it captured the sun’s energy in heat, which was cheaper and easier to store.

“So the big advantage with solar thermal is the storage. Our storage costs around $25 a kilowatt an hour, compared to lithium ion batteries which cost about $300 a kilowatt hour,” Mr Fisher said.

He said the system meant power production could happen whenever it was needed and, until now, that role of maintaining a steady electricity grid had mainly been provided by coal power.

“We can run 24-hours-a-day and providing base load is really the key to solar thermal,” he said.

Mr Fisher said if the 1.1MW Jemalong pilot proved the technology was viable for 30 years, billion dollar commercial plants would be built.

“This sort of technology will put massive amounts of money into regional Australia if it takes off,” he said.

Vast Solar has revealed plans for a 30MW commercial plant – at a yet to be determined location – and Mr Fisher said the company had progressed well in attracting investment.