Solar and gas - the perfect fit ?  

Posted by Big Gav in , , , ,

The Business Spectator has an article on combined solar thermal and gas fired power stations (the technically unambitious option those who don't want to pay for in-built energy storage go for - however its still streets ahead of more coal fired power or regular gas) - Solar and gas are the perfect fit.

Some of the sector may be wondering at the timing of the comments by Australian Solar Energy Society John Grimes – who buckets federal Energy Minister Martin Ferguson in the article as “clearly no fan of solar” and dismisses the Rudd government as not likely to get its solar policy settings right even in its next term – at a point when the government is formally taking in applications for grants from its $1.5 billion “solar flagships” program.

Next Monday is the deadline for applications to be handed in and the government intends to announce the first tranche of awards in July (in time to boast about them at the federal election thereafter, one assumes).

One of the ironies of the situation is that a favourite to win a sizeable chunk of the government’s millions – to be handed over by Martin “No Fan” Ferguson – will be one of the fossil-fuelled companies with a proposal to link solar thermal and peaking power gas, claimed as a world first development in industrial-sized generation.

Brisbane-based ERM Power, Australia’s largest private electricity generator, is making no secret of its desire to be the first in this race. It is interested in building a solar/gas hybrid plant at its planned Wellington power station in New South Wales or at its third Braemar station in central Queensland, preferably both, working with giant global engineering business Siemens as the technology provider.

The concept is simple: use the solar generation when the sun’s available and switch to gas as back-up when it isn’t.

New South Wales director Andy Pittlik says the Wellington project, which ERM Power sees as the next cab off the rank in its building program after constructing four other gas plants in the past 18 months with 1,740 MW capacity, will also use new open-cycle technology that produces more power while burning less fuel.

Managing director Phillip St Baker, son of founder and chairman Trevor, claims the company is on track to build about a third of Australia’s new generating capacity in the next five years after contributing half of new construction in the past five.

He says the biggest drawback to solar thermal power production is the “very, very expensive” cost of storing electricity for the 12 hours a day the sun doesn’t shine. “That’s why we want to integrate the technologies to deliver affordable, reliable power 24 hours a day – and, when you integrate solar and gas, you can make use of common infrastructure such as the boiler and the steam turbine, too.”

St Baker says the company is also looking at building a 900 kilometre gas pipeline to link its now-commissioned Braemar 2 peaking plant on Queensland’s Darling Downs with the proposed Wellington development, near Dubbo. This $500 million link would interconnect coal seam gas resources with conventional gas supply from Victoria.

1 comments

They say that storing electricity is very expensive, so why don't they build solar thermal with heat storage, which is far cheaper and more efficent than storing electricity? Not only that, but it would give them more valuable dispatchable power.

Not that combining natural gas and CSP is a bad idea, it isn't. The pilot CSP plants built by the U.S. NREL in the California desert have experimented with both ideas. They originally used water for the heat storage, which actually worked quite well, giving southern California power after the sun went down. Then they dismantled the heat storage aspect to make way for combined solar and natural gas. It wasn't that the heat storage didn't work, they just wanted to try something else. The 9 pilot plants have been running as combined gas and solar for a decade or more. Interestingly, the solar thermal provides 95% of the power during peak demand hours. The nine pilot plants combined capacity is about 350 MW.

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