Last year, South Australia made news by producing nearly 83 percent of its electricity solely from wind energy. The incredible scope was fueled by a $6 billion investment in both wind turbines and solar arrays. And following up on the impressive success, this year the southern state is all set to make arrangments for what will be the largest single-tower solar thermal power plant in our planet earth. Christened as the Aurora Solar Energy Project, the massive installation will boast a (proposed) output of 150 megawatts.
Interestingly enough, the solar thermal power plant will be constructed and managed by SolarReserve, the very same entity that was behind the ambitious Rice Solar Energy Project in California (which has since been stalled due to alteration of investment tax credits for renewable energy). In fact, the Aurora Solar Energy Project, to be built at Port Augusta in South Australia, will be based on a similar technology originally envisaged for the Rice Solar Energy Project.
To that end, like most concentrated solar power (CSP) plants, the Aurora Solar Energy Project will use a large number of heliostats (mirrors) that focus (and thus concentrate) the incoming sun-rays into a smaller zone. Simply put, this leads to the accumulation of heat – which in turn is ideal for energy storage solutions like molten salt. This setup can be further used to generate steam that would power the turbines for producing thermal electricity. So, in a sense, the resultant thermal electricity is indirectly sourced from the renewable ‘prowess’ of the sun. The following animated video does a nifty job of explaining this relatively simple scope of the heat generation, storage, and ultimate utilization for electricity –
Now when translated to figures, this solar thermal power plant is expected to power around 90,000 homes and generate 495-gigawatt hours of electricity per year, which would account for five percent of South Australia’s energy needs. The fascinating solution of molten salt is estimated to provide 1,100 MW of stored energy, which will result in up to eight hours of full load storage for the plant. Simply put, the numbers should adequately equate to an uninterrupted power supply for 24 hours a day.
Beyond numbers, into the realm of practicality, the construction of the Aurora Solar Energy Project is expected to commence from next year, while the power station should begin its operations by 2020. And finally, in case you are interested, the world’s largest CSP installation (comprising four different plants in a single location) will pertain to the Noor Ouarzazate Solar Complex, which is being built on the fringe of the picturesque Saharan city of Ouarzazate, south of the High Atlas Mountains, in Morocco.