The Opportunity: The Repower Port Augusta campaign has made many aware that solar thermal energy offers a possible, job rich, alternative to coal.
Many investments in renewable energy provide significant investment to international manufacturers of wind or solar energy. Locally we pick up jobs in construction and a smaller number of jobs remain afterwards for operation and maintenance. Solar thermal offers significant South Australian investment if we could also provide a local manufacturer of the mirrors that focus the sun’s energy on the solar tower. Heliostat is looking to do just that. The company is a spin off from a former car manufacturing base and they are already looking at export opportunities in India.
Solar Thermal has a number of advantages over other large renewable energy power stations because it seeks to provide baseload power. The thermal energy can be stored and dispatched whenever needed, thus creating an adequate replacement for the Playford and Northern Power Stations. The timing is such that these power stations will close and SA will rely on baseload from gas fired power stations but in aiming for 100% renewable energy we need to progress with this sort of technology. (The Conservation Council’s great report on this topic is worth a read)
While solar thermal might represent a higher value form of renewable electricity we haven’t seen a rush to build because 1) costs are higher than wind and solar PV but they continue to fall globally and 2) Alinta has been given the prime opportunity to invest but may not proceed. Opening the opportunity to other solar thermal investors may speed up the project.
Policy proposal to Repower Port Augusta with solar thermal energy:
These projects only go ahead if someone is stitched up to buy the power through a Power Purchase Agreement (PPA). The State Government buys around $100m of electricity per year (if you include SA Water) and used some of its early renewable energy commitments to underpin Starfish Hill wind farm. Local Governments have clubbed together in the past to do some of their electricity purchasing and as a group have a fairly significant spend. (some contracts might be up for renewal at the beginning of 2016)
The ACT process is worth considering. It has underpinned a number of SA wind farm investments with a reverse auction process for renewable energy which included requirements for local economic benefits in Canberra. ACT has also used its purchasing power to target specific outcomes. It has a tender underway for community owned energy and has therefore stimulated offerings such as solarshare.
CORENA has already fundraised AROUND $50,000 for a Big Win solar thermal project and it will be interesting to see how community finance can be used to help support and stimulate this project.
What will it cost?
A dedicated solar thermal reverse auction is likely to cost more than the recent ACT outcomes ($92 per MWh). The costs could be weighed up with the local economic benefits and the process could proceed if it was considered valuable.Running the process would draw developers out of the woodwork.
It is likely that falling technology costs would make it worthwhile to run the process annually until the cost/ benefit equation falls into place.
As discussed above, the benefits in terms of local and regional economies are significant on this investment.
What do you think of this idea? If you like it or you want to build on it please help it circulate:
- submit your thoughts to the consultation (by 18th October)
- tweet this idea to the Premier
- tweet it to the Minister for Energy
- email the Minister for Environment
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