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Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Australia Gov't awards $60M Grant to 40MW solar thermal dish farm

The largest solar energy farm in the southern hemisphere is to be built in the South Australian steel city of Whyalla after a consortium led by the US-based National Power (NP) was awarded a A$60m grant from the Australian government.

The A$230m solar thermal project will feature solar dish technology developed by an Australian National University team led by Dr Keith Lovegrove, with 30 of the 25 metre diameter dishes to have a capacity of 40MW.

NP is teaming up with Adelaide-based Wizard Solar to develop the project, which is expected to be completed in 2012, and already has financing in place, a spokesman said.

The project will be the first large scale solar thermal project in Australia, and was one of two proposals that received funding from the government¹s much delayed Renewable Energy Development Program.

A 23MW solar booster project, using linear Fresnel technology developed by Ausra and now owned by France's Areva also received A$32m in funding and will be
attached to the Kogan Creek coal fired power station in south-west Queensland.

The funding came as the government also announced a shortlist of eight applicants competing for two projects to be funded under round one of the government's A$1.5bn solar flagships program, which aims to showcase large scale solar PV and solar thermal technologies.

The shortlist for solar PV comprises consortia led by Australian energy generator and retailers Tru Energy and AGL Energy, who both propose thin film technologies, along with BP Solar, and a partnership between China's Suntech and Australian wind energy group Infigen Energy.

The solar thermal shortlist includes a consortium led by Wind Prospect CWP, which proposes to use Ausra technology to build a gas-boosted solar thermal plant at Kogan Creek, and Australian group Transfield Infrastructure, which wants to use linear Fresnel technology to transform a coal-fired power station in Townsville into a gas-boosted solar facility.

The other shortlisted candidates are Spain's Acciona and a consortium led by the US-based Parsons Brinckerhoff, who are both proposing technology using parabolic troughs. Promoters of solar power towers, including the US-based BrightSource Energy and Spain's Cobra, did not make the shortlist. The two winners will be announced next year and a second round of applications will follow soon after.

Wizard spokesman Artur Zawadski, says the Whyalla plant will use turbines running at around 560 degrees Celsius, although the dish technology could deliver heat of up to 2,000C, making it useful for a range of thermal chemical process, including coal gasification.

"We consider this a small scale plant," he said. "If you look where you expect plants in future, say around 250MW, you would need up to 2,000 dishes."

He said solar dishes had an advantage over linear Fresnel and trough technologies because both the collection device and the receiver could track the sun on two axes, delivering maximum optical efficiency. "We deliver more energy per square metre and that helps drive the cost down," he said.

One dish has been operating at the Canberra-based ANU, and a small field comprising four dishes is currently under construction at Whyalla as part of a solar energy storage demonstration.

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