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South Australia to build world’s largest thermal solar plant as SolarReserve Aurora project is given approval

Not happy with having the world’s largest battery, South Australia will now get the biggest thermal solar plant in the world as the $650 million 150 megawatt SolarReserve project in Port Augusta received state development approval.

The plant will be built by SolarReserve this year and is expected to be complete by the year 2020. The South Australian Government announced the project in August of 2017 and the power generated will be used to power all state government capital projects. Any surplus will be sold on to non-governmental customers.

The SolarReserve power plant will be able to generate 500-gigawatt hours of energy annually, providing power to around 90,000 homes, with eight hours of full load storage.

Once constructed, the facility will be the world’s largest single-tower solar thermal power plant.

How do thermal solar plants work?

They work by using multiple heliostats – which are in essence turning mirrors – to focus solar energy onto a single central tower.

This tower uses molten salt technology to store this heat, which it can later use to create steam to turn a turbine and generate electricity when needed.

The SolarReserve plant will displace the equivalent of 200,000 tonnes of CO2 annually.

A major milestone for South Australia

South Australian acting energy minister Chris Picton called the project a welcome development for the state.

“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

“South Australia is fast becoming a global centre for the development of renewable energy with storage, with a range of other projects set to come online over the next few years.”

Commenting on the latest approvals, SolarReserve chief executive Kevin Smith said it is a major milestone.

“It is a significant step in the development of the Aurora solar thermal power station, which will bring clean power generation technology to South Australia,” Mr Smith said.

The Clean Energy Council executive general manager Natalie Collard told Fairfax Media, “the price that the government will pay for power is remarkably low, considering solar thermal is a very young technology in Australia.

“The state has taken a series of positive steps towards greater energy independence which are really starting to pay off. And it has already met its target of 50 percent renewable energy almost a decade early,” she said.

“South Australia is providing the rest of the country a glimpse of a renewable energy future. Our electricity system is rapidly moving towards one which will be smarter and cleaner, with a range of technologies providing high-tech, reliable, lower-cost power.”

Australia’s two other solar thermal plants

Australia has two other large-scale solar thermal plants, a 44-megawatt plant at Kogan Creek in Queensland, and a small 9.3-megawatt facility built to support AGL’s Liddell coal-fired power plant in New South Wales, although neither is a single-tower style of thermal solar plant.

South Australia drew international focus late last year when, in a partnership with Tesla, it installed the world’s largest single battery unit, capable of powering 30,000 homes.

The new plant will be located 30 kilometres north of Port Augusta, in South Australia.

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