Australian solar thermal technology funded by US government for major demonstration project

CSIRO's heliostat field in Newcastle


The US Department of Energy will fund the $33 million (US$25 million) concentrated solar thermal technology trial, which includes the construction of a 1 MW demonstration plant with a minimum of six hours of storage in New Mexico.

The technology is a result of a partnership between US-based Sandia National Laboratories and the Australian Solar Thermal Research Initiative (ASTRI), an $100 million consortium established through the Australian Renewable Energy Agency (ARENA) and CSIRO.

Concentrated solar thermal technology stores energy by using concentrated sunlight to heat a “curtain” of falling low-cost particles to 700°C. The heated particles can then be stored and reheated later to power a turbine at any time, making the technology’s power output adjustable to grid demand.

Concentrated solar thermal (CST) technology
Concentrated solar thermal (CST) technology can come in dish form

Clean Energy Council

Preceding the funding decision, the Australian National University (ANU) modelled the technology and found it to be “cost-effective and reliable.”

“Our modelling shows a concentrated solar power system built around this falling particle curtain could generate a megawatt-hour of stored electricity for less than US$60,” Associate Professor John Pye said.

 “A least-cost system built at the 100 megawatt scale would come with enough storage to run the turbine for 14 hours, easily enough to allow continuous night-time electricity for large parts of the year.”

Australia will continue to collaborate with the US on developing the new technology, including trials at the CSIRO solar thermal falling particle test facility, set to commence in the coming weeks.

“This form of energy is not only inexpensive and clean; with its built-in low-cost storage, it can contribute greatly to the reliability of the renewable energy mix, and to facilitating the global transition from fossil fuels to 100% renewable energy as mandated by the Paris Agreement,” Pye added.

The ANU Associate Professor also noted the heat-storing ceramic particles in this system were, in fact, originally developed for use in unconventional natural gas fracking – a far cry from the clean technology they now feature in.

“Zero emissions, dispatchable energy sources like concentrated solar thermal storage will be needed to back up increasing shares of renewable energy,” Federal Minister for Energy and Emissions Reduction, Angus Taylor, said in a statement today.

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