Solar Dawn: Australian “Solar Flagships" winners announced  

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The Climate Spectator has a series of articles by Giles Parkinson on the announcement of the winners of the Australian Government’s “solar flagships" competition - Pride and prejudice.

Surely it wasn’t deliberate! But if the Labor government had wanted to further distinguish its clean energy policy from its predecessor's, then it would have got a fair bit of traction from the choices made in the first round of the $1.5 billion Solar Flagships program.

The two consortia chosen to lead Australia into the era of large-scale solar energy facilities both contain technologies or business plans that had been forced to emigrate under the Coalition government because of a lack of support and incentive.

Dr David Mills developed his unique solar thermal technology at the UNSW, but was forced to pack up and go to California to seek investment backing and government incentive. Ausra, the company he founded, was bought by the French government-owned nuclear energy giant, Areva, for around $200 million early last year. Now Areva has been chosen to “bring the technology home" and build a $1.2 billion, 250MW solar thermal hybrid plant near CS Energy’s Kogan Creek power station in Chinchilla in south west Queensland.

BP Solar closed Australia’s only solar PV manufacturing facilities in 2008, although that had more to do with internal decision-making than local policy. But its consortium partner, Australia’s Pacific Hydro, pushed all its renewable energy development overseas in the mid 2000s after Howard refused to extend the renewable energy target. Now the consortium, along with Spanish solar giant FRV, attracted to these shores for the first time by the Flagships process, has been chosen to build a $923 million, 150MW solar PV plant in Moree in NSW.

There is a more in-depth look at Areva’s winning solar thermal power project at Chinchilla (close to another Areva solar / gas hybrid project at Kogan Creek) - Areva pushes the solar hybrid solution.
The $1.2 billion Solar Dawn project selected for funding under the Solar Flagships program will combine solar thermal energy from the unique compact linear Fresnel reflector (CLFR) conceived in Australia with gas-fired power, in what could be a template for future solar developments.

The plant to be developed by French nuclear giant Areva, with help from Wind Prospect CWP and operated by CS Energy, will have a capacity of 250MW, but will be boosted by gas-fired power to ensure it can provide a “firm" dispatch to the grid when the sun is not shining, an important consideration for utility customers.

Under the terms of the flagships criteria, gas will be limited to 15 per cent of its annual capacity, but in practice it could provide significantly more. A nearby facility using the same solar thermal technology at CS Energy’s Kogan Creek plant is using solar as a 44MW “booster" to coal fired power, and it is not yet clear which system will prove to be the most efficient or cost effective.

The Chinchilla plant will have thousands of mirrors spread over 200 hectares in a site that will total 500 hectares. It will be located adjacent to the Kogan Creek power station, and the Western Down substation. …

GP: Are you cheaper than the others, do you think?
AW: I think that there is definitely an element of lowest costs. Areva Solar’s compact linear fresnel reflector (CLFR) technology is based on a simple, durable design using commodity materials and it certainly has a significant level of local content through construction and supply that were no doubt attractive to the Government. Not just that, but the technology itself was pioneered here in Australia.

GP: Sure, by David Mills.
AW: And so it’s going to be a showcase internationally, not just for Areva, but also for Australian innovation in general .

GP: There has been some criticism when the shortlisted candidates were announced that linear fresnel was a bit like yesterday’s technology and that maybe the technology of the future was solar towers. How do you respond to that?
AW: I think that yesterday’s technology is probably the wrong description. Parabolic trough technology has been around for 25 years and I think that solar thermal is going in two separate directions: the first one is obviously the powered tower which is all about a fairly complex concentration on a single, small focal point. The other way that it’s going is the linear systems, like CLFR (compact linear fresnel reflector) which is what Areva has invested in, which is targeting the cost and performance trade off.
Now, the attractiveness of CLFR technology is that it’s direct steam generation, so it doesn’t require that balance of plant or heat exchanger equipment, it doesn’t have the environmental hazards of dealing with a thermal oil circuit and consequently it has a capital cost advantage. The Areva Solar technology is a very, very advanced technology that produces super heated steam. And I think that those comments about yesteryear technology do not understand the progress that Areva has made to technology.

GP: Indeed, we’ve written before that Areva has succeeded in a significant lift in temperature and I guess that improves its efficiency.
AW: That’s right. So, Areva’s technology is the only linear technology that generates super-heated steam and our temperatures are in excess of what is achievable by a parabolic trough plant. By producing super heated steam at a such a temperature and pressure, we increase the efficiency in a power generation application of using our technology, which improves the project economics.

GP: How much will this project cost?
AW: About $1.2 billion. It’s subject to finalisation at financial close which will occur before the end of the year, so that’s just an estimate as of today and once we go through the process over the next few months of bedding down all of the final agreements, then we’ll be able to come out with the final estimate.

GP: Ok. And you’re getting $464 million from the federal government and $75 million from Queensland. How much debt and equity will there be?
AW: The debt equity mix has yet to be finalised. We’re currently finalising our negotiations with the project financiers, but we do have over capacity in both debt and equity.

GP: So, does the project depend on a good PPA then?
AW: Yes. The project will require a power purchase agreement in order to attract finance and we’re finalising arrangements over the next couple of months on an agreement that has been pursued right through the process.

GP: And how confident are you with that, because it’s been impossible for wind producers to get a PPA and their costs are much lower than yours?
AW: Well, you’ve got to understand that wind producers don’t have the same characteristics of dispatch as the Solar Dawn project. We’re able to offer a thermal capacity into the market place as a result of having a solar thermal and gas hybrid. Consequently, that’s very attractive to an energy retailer because it’s capacity that they can rely on within their portfolio.

GP: Will it also be attractive because you’ll be dispatching into peak times or at least shoulder times?
AW: That’s right. So, the dispatch profile of solar correlates extremely well with the demand in the system which is driven by air conditioning loads.

GP: Tell us about this solar-gas hybrid concept? Does that mean that you have to build an extra gas boiler to go with it? How much capacity of gas will you be building with it or will you be using facilities already at Kogan Creek?
AW: So, part of the design of the project includes the incorporation of gas boilers, which are there to be able to augment the supply from solar. So, where the turbine has headroom available which has not been fuelled by steam producers on the solar fuel, we’re able to use a supplementary fuel source which is gas to be able to get maximum capacity from the plant. So, it gives the off-taker the ability to rely on that capacity within their portfolio and ensures that they’re able to manage the risk in the energy market.

GP: How many megawatts of gas will you be putting in?
AW: The plant will be able to independently operate on solar, or it will be able to independently operate on gas. The 15 per cent restriction is from the guidelines under the Solar Flagships Program related to the annual energy that was dispatched from the plant. It’s not an instantaneous calculation. It’s a yearly calculation. We will build a pipeline in the local region to a number of gas sources and that pipeline will then supply the gas to the plant, so at day one we will have the capability to generate on gas-fired capacity if the sun is not shining.

There is also a look at the PV project in Victoria along with an interview with BP Solar - Big solar PV begins charge to parity.
Australia’s first large scale solar photovoltaic energy plant will start producing electricity from its Moree facility in 2013. If all goes to plan, and solar PV costs become competitive with wind as predicted in the next five years, some several dozen such projects will be likely be scattered across Australia by the end of the decade, adding a capacity of more than 4.5 gigawatts of emissions-free energy to the country’s electricity grid.

Construction by BP Solar and its consortium partners Pacific Hydro and Spain’s Fotowatio Renewable Ventures (FRV) will be done in stages, with about 30MW coming on line in 2013, and the rest by 2015. By the time it is complete the 150MW facility will be unlike anything seen in Australia to date.

The 645,000 panels will stretch over an area 3.4km long by 3km wide, or around 600 football stadiums. The next biggest installation in Australia is a 1.2MW array on a garage roof at the University of Queensland. And unlike rooftop panels, these arrays will be able to follow the sun, lifting their capacity factor to around 28 per cent (from about 15 per cent), and extending the duration of dispatchable energy earlier into the morning and later in the afternoon.

There is also an interview witrh 2 of the other companies involved in the solar flagships program - Q&A: FRV & Pacific Hydro.
Spanish solar giant Fotowatio Renewable Ventures (FRV) says it intends to build up its capacity in Australia after its consortium won the solar PV funding round from the Solar Flagships program.

FRV’s head of business development, Javier Huergo, says FRV – which will hold an equity stake of more than 50 per cent in the 150MW project at Moree – hopes more opportunities will emerge in Australia, which he sees as one of the most prospective in the world, along with the US and South Africa.


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