Australia Has an Inexpensive New Solar Energy and Power Storage Technology Worth Emulating

By afloresm (SOLUCAR PS10) [CC-BY-2.0 (], via Wikimedia Commons

By afloresm (SOLUCAR PS10) [CC-BY-2.0 (], via Wikimedia Commons

As the necessity to shift to renewable energy sources becomes more and more apparent, and in the midst of the calls of the International Energy Association (IEA) to replace fossil fuels with renewable sources, Australia has some good news for the world. Australian technology company Vast Solar has started building a 6MWth concentrated solar thermal (CST) power station with a storage capacity of three hours (to be referred to as CST+storage henceforth). This is the first standalone solar power plant of its kind in Australia.

The Jemalong Project

Andrew Want, CEO of Vast Solar, says that they are building a CST+storage type of plant near Forbes in New South Wales. It can provide power on demand and likewise supply electricity to the grid. Want suggests that the power plant will produce electricity at a cost comparable to what wind energy production requires or even better.  It makes use of five solar arrays with 3,500 heliostats or mirrors, five below-30-meter towers with thermal energy receivers, and a thermal energy storage system capable of supplying adequate power for three hours of full operation at 1.1MWe.

Vast Solar is already working on plans to build bigger plants with bigger capacities, particularly one with a 30 MW power production capacity and 4 hours of storage. The company is considering a number of sunny areas in Australia including Queensland, Western Australia, and South Australia. The prospects of new locations where the CST+storage solar energy plant model is to be installed also include other countries including India, Africa, the Middle East, the United States, and South America.

Keeping Costs Low

The low cost of Vast Solar’s CST+storage model is what makes it very appealing. Its ability to provide power on demand is made possible without losing the ability to provide electricity to the grid. This makes for greater efficiency, especially considering that power production using the sun’s rays is not going to be at a constant rate. Want says that Vast Solar’s CST+storage model was initially developed five years ago, with the goal of creating something low-cost but high in performance and can be used on a commercial scale. Want claims that with their “sun-to-storage-to-grid” model, they have achieved something that can make the use of solar power more viable.

By MrMambo at en.wikipedia (Own work) [Public domain], from Wikimedia Commons

By MrMambo at en.wikipedia (Own work) [Public domain], from Wikimedia Commons

Special Design

Just to emphasize, CST is not similar to solar energy generation that makes use of solar panels. In CST, it is the heat of the sun that is important, not the amount of photons that reach photovoltaic sheets. The goal is to concentrate solar heat to boil water and run a turbine that will in turn generate the electricity.

Vast Solar’s CST+storage system is specially designed to be inexpensive to build and operate. As what has been used in the Jemalong plant, there are mirrors employed to capture solar energy as heat. The heat obtained from the sun is stored and subsequently released to produce steam that can operate a traditional electricity-generating turbine. The noteworthy aspect of the system is the unique integration of the heat transfer fluid. CEO Want refuses to divulge information about the specifics but apparently, Vast Solar is using something highly efficient and not the typical things other CST plants have (molten storage and graphite).

The Not So Good News

Unfortunately, the Australian government does not appear to be very supportive of what Vast Solar has created. Tony Abbott’s administration is planning to significantly or even overwhelmingly reduce the institutions and resources that support the deployment of renewable energy technologies in Australia. The Jemalong project is being financially supported by ARENA or the Australian Renewable Energy Agency but the agency will soon be closed as announced by the Abbott government last week.

By USA.Gov - BLM - BUREAU OF LAND MANAGEMENT Uploader: Head at de.wikipedia. Later version(s) were uploaded by Pikarl at de.wikipedia. [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

By USA.Gov – BLM – BUREAU OF LAND MANAGEMENT Uploader: Head at de.wikipedia. Later version(s) were uploaded by Pikarl at de.wikipedia. [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

Hopefully, Vast Solar finds success in the massive deployment of its CST+storage technology and that it can introduce more improved energy storage or battery technology that can be deployed to other parts of the world. Cleaner and greener energy production is already an urgent necessity. Trying out Australia’s model is certainly not a bad option.