CSP in Australia: Areva ushers solar’s dawn down under

CSP Today takes a closer look at the CSP project selected for development under Australia's Solar Flagships programme.

By Giles Parkinson in Sydney

Areva Solar is to build Australia’s largest CSP plant, having emerged as the successful candidate for Australia's Solar Flagships programme.

The Solar Dawn consortium, comprising Areva Solar, Wind Prospect CWP and Australia’s CS Energy, won the first round of the Australian Government $A1.5 billion Solar Flagships program.
Solar Dawn will build a 250MW, gas-boosted facility near Chinchilla in south-west Queensland using Areva’s compact linear Fresnel reflector technology that it inherited from the purchase of California-based, Australian founded, Ausra in early 2010.
The A$1.2 billion project will receive a A
$464 million grant from the Australian government, and a further A$75 million from the Queensland state government. The debt and equity contributions, as well as a power purchase agreement, have yet to be finalised. No other details, such as anticipated costs per MWh, have been released.
“For Areva this is a landmark project,” says Anthony Wiseman, Areva’s regional director and general manager for Australian renewables. “It will be our global reference plant and it is going to be a showcase internationally, not just for Areva, but also for Australian innovation in general.”

The perfect site

Wiseman says Chinchilla was the favoured site because it has one of the best DNI resources in the country’s eastern states, where the main electricity grid is located, and is located next to key infrastructure. Two other applicants had also proposed siting their projects in the area.
The location is adjacent to a newly established sub-station, meaning it has no constraints on supply, and is next to a gas pipeline that can provide for the gas-booster turbine, which will provide up to 15 per cent of its output. It is also just 2.5 km away from the Kogan Creek coal-fired power station, owned by CS Energy, where Areva is building a 44MW solar booster, also using its CLFR technology. And it has access to water from a local water treatment plant.
Wiseman says while significantly larger than its other operating facility - the 5MW Kimberlina demonstration plant at Bakersfield, California – the Solar Dawn project does not face a “scale-up risk”. He says Areva will build 60 solar steam generators that power two 125MW steam turbines. “It is a modular technology,” Wiseman says. “Our module is a solar steam generator, so we are building a number of them rather than taking one and making them larger. That is not a scale-up risk, that’s a repetition risk.”
The facility will cover 450 hectares, including a 200ha solar field containing mirrors and steam boiler tubes. It is due to be commissioned in 2015. The project will include a long-term research collaboration with the University of Queensland, and will share information with the Australian Solar Institute.
Solar Dawn beat off two other short-listed candidates for the Solar Flagship funding. One of them came from Transfield-Novatec Biosol to transform an ageing coal-fired power station using its own CLFR technology. Novatec is currently building a 30MWe facility in Murcia, Spain, which will be the first utility-scale CLFR project in the world, although that project is a stand-alone facility and not gas-boosted. Phil Hayes-St Clair, general manager, corporate affairs, at Transfield, says like Chinchilla, the Murcia project is also a modular facility. It will produce solar steam at 285C, although Areva says it will produce steam at 400C.
The third competing proposal came from the Solar Flair consortium (Siemens, Parson Brinckerhoff, John Holland, and CS Energy) to build a 150MW parabolic trough facility, also at Kogan Creek. Another shortlisted project, a 200MW parabolic trough facility proposed by Acciona, was withdrawn before the final round of selection.
The short-list was criticized by some renewable groups, such as the Melbourne-based advocacy group Beyond Zero Emissions, because it did not include any solar tower or storage technologies.
Competing technologies

The first round of the solar flagships program was also criticized because it awarded funds to only two large scale projects (a 150MW solar PV project will also be built in NSW state). Many in the industry believe it would have been more constructive to award more grants to smaller projects, to yield a greater understanding of the available technologies and geographies.
The second round of Solar Flagships, on which the remaining $A730 million will be spent, is likely to fund between six and ten smaller projects. It is not yet clear how many might be reserved for solar PV or CSP.

The government has consulted widely with industry, and discussed funding ideas during a solar summit in Canberra in early July. The Clean Energy Council is due to unveil its strategy paper in early September with recommendations on the future funding approach. The second round is unlikely to call for applications before 2013, with a new body, the Australian Renewable Energy Agency, to be established in the interim to manage this and other funding initiatives.
“There is a range of potential scenarios,” says Mark Twidell, the head of the ASI. “These will be considered over the next year, and will look at factors such as technology risk, smaller systems, and remote locations.”

In any event, the industry is relieved that the CSP market is finally under way in Australia, even if loose ends still need to be tied up. As Keith Lovegrove, the head of solar thermal at consultancy group ITPower noted, “It is terrific that Australia is moving into the CSP sector, but [CSP] is still the elephant in the room. Going forward, we must have some market mechanism that will see projects built on a fully commercial basis.”

To respond to this article, please write to the Editor:

Rikki Stancich: rstancich@csptoday.com

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