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Solar Thermal Could Augment Australian Power Grid

New collaborative research from institutions in Australia has posited that concentrated solar thermal power (CST) could prove a very big player in augmenting Australia’s power grid.

The investment into CST could not only reduce the need for new infrastructure installments like electricity poles/structures and wires, which will itself reduce consumer energy bills and save almost $1 billion AUD in network investment, all the while providing needed investment for CST innovation across the country.

“Studies continually show, and this study provides further confirmation, that concentrating solar thermal power has an important and valuable role to play in Australia’s electricity system of the future,” said AUSTELA Chair Andrew Want. “But for these benefits to be realised and necessary investment attracted, we must demonstrate CST technology in our national network.”

The research was led by the Australian Solar Thermal Energy Association (AUSTELA), and supported by the University of Technology, Sydney’s Institute for Sustainable Futures (ISF), the University of NSW, and Queensland-based Ergon Energy.

The study shows that CST’s inherent ability to store energy as well as increase the efficiency of solar PV electricity generation, especially if CST is installed at key points on the grid where major growth is expected. Andrew Want noted that CST has seen significant investment around the world over the last 20 years, but due to Australia’s lack of grid-connected CST it has suffered from lack of investment in it’s own network.

“It is inevitable we will change the way we plan, generate and deliver energy to consumers – this has already begun, with wind power and solar PV driving the change and CST has an important contribution to make in meeting our future power needs.”

ISF’s Jay Rutovitz notes that network investment attempting to deal with peak demand growth has been largely responsible for Australian electricity price rises over the past five years. She also made it clear that continued similar investments is not economically feasible.

“In planning upgrades to our electricity networks we need reliable and accessible information on hand for government and business decision makers to make the right long-term choices about where money will be spent.”

“This study shows CST could be a viable alternative to traditional network augmentation in more than 70 per cent of the cases examined,” she added. “It also identified how $0.8 billion could be saved from network investment and how 533 megawatts of cost effective CST power could alleviate constrained grid locations in the next ten years. This would reduce greenhouse emissions by an estimated 1.9 million tonnes per year.”

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