Solar energy is looking bright in Australia

Posted on 2017-08-18

Australia has approved the plan to construct world's biggest solar thermal power plant. Another win for renewable energy.

How does solar thermal energy work?

Tens of thousands of mirrors track the sun and point towards a receiver on top of a tower to accumulate energy. Molten salt flows through the tower and fills the external walls of the receiver, where it absorbs the heat energy, which can reach temperatures of over 500℃. When needed, it leaves the storage area and is pumped into the stream generator and mixes with water to generate steam. The steam is changed back to water, and the molten will circle back to be reheated.

The new project is estimated to cost AU$650 million (GBP£400 million) and will be completed by 2020.

"The significance of solar thermal generation lies in its ability to provide energy virtually on demand through the use of thermal energy storage to store heat for running the power turbines," says sustainable energy engineering professor Wasim Saman, from the University of South Australia.

"This is a substantially more economical way of storing energy than using batteries."

In contrast to solar panels, solar thermal energy doesn't require batteries to store left over energy. Instead, the molten salt can be used for up to 8 hours after the sun has gone down.

Solar energy is decreasing in price, with this new solar thermal power plant costing less than a coal-fired power station. Not only that, but it will require 650 construction jobs for the locals, as well as, 50 full timers to continuously run the plant.

"This is first large scale application of solar thermal generation in Australia which has been operating successfully in Europe, USA and Africa," says Saman.

"While this technology is perhaps a decade behind solar PV generation, many future world energy forecasts include a considerable proportion of this technology in tomorrow's energy mix."

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