Solar thermal generation milestone for Alinta Energy

Alinta Energy has announced plans to redevelop its coal-fired Port Augusta in power station in South Australia with a standalone solar-thermal power plant.

Following the completion of the Options Study and Siting Study, Alinta Energy has decided solar thermal generation is a technically viable option and will now focus on the commercial feasibility of building a field of mirrors to concentrate sunlight for a central receiver.

Standalone power tower technology was selected following a weighting process that considered technological maturity (and experience in operation), predictability, land usage, risks to integration or operations and dual financial metrics.

In addition to the formal weighted criteria, Alinta Energy’s executive director power generation said standalone technology offers a greater potential for commercialisation than hybrid – mitigating the integration risks associated with hybridisation and offering potential generation opportunities beyond the life of its current coal-fired operations.

“There are real and significant challenges to developing and constructing solar thermal technology, including capital costs that are currently prohibitive,” he said.

“However, Alinta Energy is committed to completing the solar thermal full feasibility study with the due diligence it warrants. This will provide a comprehensive information-base for potential investment partners to consider should the cost of technology or regulatory environment change.”

Many in the local community pushed for a stand-alone solar-thermal plant rather than a hybrid solar and coal plant.

The gas and electricity retailer, which is based in Sydney, has also selected a site to inform the remainder of the study. A location to the south-east of the Augusta Power Station premises was preferred following a selection process that considered proximity to a connection point (power or substation), environmental and heritage impacts, slope and flooding potential and land use (or ability to acquire).

Port Augusta Mayor Sam Johnson says backing a solar-thermal plant would be a visionary project for the region. But, he says the future for coal supplies from Leigh Creek in state’s far north needs to be considered.

“What we all seem to be forgetting is Leigh Creek has an effective lifespan to about 2027 so we’ve effectively got 13 years left of coal production in South Australia and then what do we have?” he said, as reported by ABC News.

“We have effectively one industry that is going to leave the South Australian economy and we’re not really planning to replace it.”

The $2.3 million two-year full feasibility study received $1 million of support from the Australian Renewable Energy Agency (ARENA) and $130,000 from the South Australian Government.

Stage one of the study will continue through the end of 2014 and a Balance of Study report is scheduled to be submitted ARENA in early 2015, with release to the public by March 2015. This will contain a full description of the prospective solar thermal power plant at the preferred site.