Worley Parsons' Solar Dream  

Posted by Big Gav in , , , ,

As solar thermal power is probably my favoured form of large scale clean energy, I was very pleased to see today's press on a plan by Worley Parsons to build the world's largest CSP plant in Australia - a 8.5 GW plant in the Pilbara - something I've suggested here a few times, due to the concentration of industry in the area and the world leading solar insolation levels.

The Business Spectator reports - Dream solar system.

So much for those hoary old arguments that Australia could not possibly meet an ambitious renewable energy target of 20 per cent by 2020.

Australian engineering firm WorleyParsons has unveiled an ambitious project to build up to 34 solar thermal power stations that could provide 10 per cent of the country’s energy needs by 2020.

The $34 billion project – each station could cost around $1 billion – would meet half of the 20 per cent renewable energy target that has been set by the Rudd Government for 2020 and could provide significantly more over time.

WorleyParsons hopes that the first solar thermal plant – using proven parabolic mirror technology in use in California for the pasts 20 years – could be built in Australia by 2011. Other solar thermal technologies would also be considered over time.

Peter Meurs, who heads the project, says each plant would be a "utility” sized installation of around 250Mw, the size of many gas and coal fired stations, and would most likely produce electricity at a cost of 15c per kilowatt hour.

Meurs says the technology is ideal to meet Australia’s “peak energy” requirements, the daylight hours when energy use surges as air conditioners and the like are turned on. “The generators used in solar thermal are the same as coal fired generators,” he says. “They provide reliable power from when the sun comes up in the morning to when the sun goes down at night.”

Solar thermal can also store energy for 24 hours or more, but the costs rise significantly in those circumstances. Meurs says this is why solar thermal is best used with a base-load source such as coal, gas, or geothermal when the technology emerges.

While WorleyParsons has brought together a consortium to consider the project and is conducting the feasibility studies, it will not be an investor in the project. This it will leave to consortium members including the likes of BHP, Rio Tinto, Wesfarmers, Delta Electricity, Woodside and Fortescue Metals.

Meurs says the project would not be feasible without the renewable energy target, noting that California and Spain had both generated large investments in solar thermal because of either renewable energy targets or generous feed in tariffs.

He says a carbon price would also help, although a minimum price per tonne had not yet been identified. “At around $10 investors would not be too enthusiastic. $20 is better, and $50 is a very strong signal.”

Meurs says Australia has the opportunity to become a world leader in solar thermal technology through the development, design, manufacture and operation of solar-thermal plants. As well as expertise in grid integration. “We are at a tipping point for solar power.”

The Age's take - Worley profit up 53%, mulls solar plant.
WorleyParsons Ltd, Australia's largest engineering company, says the Pilbara region of Western Australia could be a location for a $1 billion thermal solar power station. The company made the comments after delivering a record profit for 2007/08 of $343.9 million, up 53 per cent on the previous 12 months to June 30. It said the fiscal 2008 result was underpinned by acquisitions and strong demand for its oil and gas, and metals and minerals services.

WorleyParsons said commodity demand from China and India remained strong but the full extent of volatile economic conditions on the project development sector was unknown. Despite the caution, the engineering group said the outlook for its minerals and metals division remained positive this year.

The company launched a proposal Tuesday to build a 34 250-megawatt solar power station in Australia by 2020 with technology used in the United States over the past 20 years. Nine groups, including Rio Tinto Ltd, BHP Billiton Ltd and Fortescue Metals Group Ltd, are funding a study to examine the potential development of the power stations.

The ABC reports that the proposal has been greeted enthusiastically - Aust firm unveils plans to build 'world's biggest solar plant' .
The Managing Director of Worley Parson's sustainability arm, Peter Meurs, says the search will focus on desert locations. "The ideal location for a thermal solar power station is a desert type location, you want maximum solar with the least cloud cover or interference and our dry desert locations are ideal," he said.

The Greens say the decision is an acknowledgment that clean coal technology is not achievable.

Green's Climate Change spokeswoman, Christine Milne says it is a big boost for the renewable energy sector and should be supported by the Federal Government. "This is really an acknowledgment that clean coal is never going to be achievable and the coal industry itself is leapfrogging clean coal and recognising the power of renewable energy and solar thermal in particular," she said.

5 comments

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carbonsink   says 5:40 PM

How do we get jobs at WorleyParsons? Or perhaps I should just buy some shares ... although it seems the market has turned decidely bearish on anything related to resources ATM, including, thank Christ, the Aussie dollar!

I actually looked at the WorleyParsons web site yesterday but didn't see anything solar related (not obviously anyway) - most of their work is in mining and oil/gas services.

Of course, this project hasn't got off the ground yet - and presumably most of the work is just regular construction stuff.

As for the aussie, at what point does a falling dollar revive your business model ?

As I noted in over at LP WorleyParsons is only undertaking a feasibility study for one power plant at present.

And before you buy shares, consider what else the compny is involved in. Last year they bought Canadian oil-sands player Colt Companies for $1.1 billion.

Yes - its just a study but they have a good list of potential customers.

I think north west customers are (1) interested in not paying power prices linked to international LNG prices, and (2) scarred by 2 long power outages this year when gas infrastructure has failed calamitously and has caused them to lose billions (at least $5 billion so far) of dollars.

Plus the LNG folk would rather sell offshore than have to deal with the politics of the local energy market.

So I think its a winner all round - - the government, mining and energy industries and Worley all have something to gain from building this thing - something big in Worley's case.

All it will take is for Rudd to get the 20% MRET in and it will be a done deal - thats pretty much the best spot on the planet (in every respect) to put a solar thermal plant.

As for the rest of the company, yes - its a global oil and mining services company now - it will have a finger in every environmental disaster going from now on most likely.

I'd prefer to encourage them to shift to clean energy for their income streams instead of throwing too many rocks in their direction though...

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