South Australia approves $680m solar thermal power plant

An artist's rendering of the Aurora Solar Thermal Plant, planned to be built in South Australia.
An artist's rendering of the Aurora Solar Thermal Plant, planned to be built in South Australia.PHOTO: SOLARRESERVE

ADELAIDE - The South Australian government has given development approval for a A$650 million (S$680 million) solar thermal power plant, described by its developer as the largest of its type in the world, Australian media reported.

Construction of the 150-megawatt plant, to be built 30km north of the industrial town of Port Augusta, is expected to start this year.

The Aurora solar thermal plant is being developed by SolarReserve, a US firm that builds large-scale solar power plants.

The plant works by using thousands of heliostats to focus solar energy onto a single central tower. The heliostats, arranged in rings around the tower, are essentially large mirrors on pillars that continually track the Sun.

The Sun's energy is focused at the top of the tower to heat up molten salt. This is used to generate steam to turn a turbine and generate electricity. The molten salt can also be stored and used to generate power when needed, for example at night. SolarReserve says the plant will have 8 hours of energy storage to power the turbines. The plant will produce enough power for up to 90,000 homes, it says on its website.

The plant will also save the equivalent of 200,000 tonnes of CO2 annually, The Sydney Morning Herald reported.

South Australian acting energy minister Chris Picton called the project a welcome development for the state, The Herald quoted him as saying.

"It's fantastic that SolarReserve has received development approval to move forward with this world-leading project that will deliver clean, dispatchable renewable energy to supply our electrified rail, hospitals and schools," Mr Picton said.

The South Australian government announced in August that the project had won a competitive tender to supply 100 per cent of the government's energy needs from 2020.

However, SolarReserve still needs to finalise a promised A$110 million federal government loan for the project, the Adelaide Advertiser reported on Tuesday (Jan 9) and has yet to secure capital for the project.

The company says it will look to secure financing "in the coming months" now it has secured approval for the plant, the Advertiser said.

The Advertiser said discussions on the loan between the company and the federal government were ongoing.

The news site said SolarReserve was confident of securing the A$110 million loan but would not provide an update on Tuesday.

South Australia has become the leading Australian state for renewable energy, hitting its 50 per cent renewable energy target years ahead of schedule.

Late last year, Tesla completed a 100 MW lithium-ion battery in South Australia used to store excess power and to rapidly dispatch electricity to the grid when needed. The battery can supply energy to power about 30,000 homes for a little over an hour.