Australian news, and some related international items

Port Augusta – proudly the ‘renewables capital of Australia’

‘Renewables capital of Australia’? Port Augusta shows off its green energy credentials, ABC 

Thirteen renewable energy projects are underway or under consideration — from wind farms and pumped hydro-electric power to solar with storage that can shift electricity made when the sun’s shining to meet peak demand in the evening.

“The one great resource we have here in Port Augusta and the upper Spencer Gulf is this wonderful natural resource called the sun,” Mr Johnson said.

“It’s no different to having a massive uranium deposit, a massive gold deposit, a massive copper deposit.”

In a country drenched in sun, this natural resource is particularly abundant in the arid landscape around Port Augusta, and there are also plenty of flat expanses on which to build the facilities needed to exploit it.

Framed by the Flinders Ranges, stage one of the Bungala solar farm stretches over 300 hectares of land owned by the Bungala Aboriginal Corporation about 10 kilometres north-east of town.

Bungala uses a solar photovoltaic technology, with panels mounted on a tilting axis that can follow the sun’s path from east to west, maximising output and efficiency.

“It’s not only the largest solar project in Australia,” Mr Johnson said. “It’s also the largest in the southern hemisphere. And it’s only half complete.”

When stage two is complete, the entire project will cover more than 800 hectares — an expanse nearly as big as the Melbourne CBD — and generate up to 570 gigawatt hours of electricity a year, enough to power about 82,000 households, according to its owners, Italian multinational Enel Green Power and the Dutch Infrastructure Fund.

“Note that the Northern Power Station, when it was operating, was only producing between 500 and 540 megawatts,” Mr Johnson said.

“Obviously, it was operating 24-7, while the solar plant will only operate when the sun is shining, but when you start to incorporate battery storage and solar thermal, you then build in the energy security.”

Solar that releases energy even when the sun doesn’t shine

The Aurora project about 30 kilometres north-west of Port Augusta addresses the criticism often levelled at renewable energy — that when the sun doesn’t shine, and the wind doesn’t blow, the power doesn’t flow.

Construction is due to start soon on the concentrated solar thermal power station. It will able to store a massive 1,100 megawatt-hours of electricity, according to the project proponent, SolarReserve.

When it is built, an impressive sight will greet observers: a tower full of molten salt standing about 250 metres high, surrounded by more than 10,000 heliostats — movable mirrors, the size of billboards, algorithmically programmed to track the sun.

Those thousands of mirrors will reflect and concentrate sunlight, beaming it onto a receiver straddling the top of the tower.

During the day, molten salt will flow through the receiver and be heated to temperatures as high as 566 degrees Celsius, then stored in tanks overnight.

The energy will be dispatchable as electricity when needed — after dark in the evening peaks, or in the morning, hours after it was generated. It will be enough energy to power 90,000 homes, according to SolarReserve, which wants to build six of these plants in South Australia.

Crescent Dunes in the Nevada desert uses an identical technology.

There is one key difference: the price of the power.

“Pricing has come down dramatically, as it has throughout the renewable energy industry,” Kevin Smith, the chief executive of SolarReserve, said.

Crescent Dunes, the first plant of its kind, began operating in 2014.

Construction was aided by a concessional loan of $US737 million ($1,040 million) from the US Department of Energy. Despite that subsidy, it was contracted to supply electricity to Nevada at $190 a megawatt hour. Not cheap.

The Aurora project is receiving a much smaller concessional loan from the Australian Government — about $110 million — but will supply energy at a fraction of the price.

SolarReserve is cagey about the precise figure (the contractual conditions are complex) but Mr Smith agreed with reports that put the cost at about $78 a megawatt hour.

At current exchange rates, that is well under half the price of electricity from its inaugural plant in the US — and far cheaper than new coal-fired power.

“In terms of cents per kilowatt hour, we can supply electricity 30 to 40 per cent cheaper than new-build coal,” Mr Smith maintained.

A town blanketed in ash

Coal used to be Port Augusta’s lifeblood………

“We have incredible geography. We have everything we need to become the renewables capital of the world.”

An exaggeration? Maybe, but it’s not far off the mark.

The arid-zone landscape of the upper Spencer Gulf has solar resources ideally suited for concentrating solar thermal power, wind in abundance at speeds well suited for turbines, and a coastal location that opens the possibility of pumped hydro energy using seawater.

What you won’t find are fields of fruit and vegetables — but where there’s a will, there’s a way.

That white beacon of light on the edge of town? It’s a solar thermal power plant that runs a massive greenhouse that grows truss tomatoes.

Sundrop Farm is using the solar thermal electricity to desalinate water, create electricity to power the operation, and pump heat through 60 kilometres of pipe around the vines.

It’s a testament to human ingenuity, like much of what’s happening in the renewal of Port Augusta.

October 6, 2018 - Posted by | energy, South Australia

No comments yet.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: