Australian solar thermal company shortlisted as global ‘pioneer’


Sydney-based concentrated solar thermal power (CSP) company Vast Solar has been named as one of 23 companies shortlisted for Bloomberg New Energy Finance’s (BNEF) Pioneers program which recognises “game-changing technologies or innovations” with potential to globally accelerate decarbonisation.

The company is one of six nominated in the ‘Providing round-the-clock zero-emissions power’ challenge and is one of the first Australian companies ever to become a finalist in the program’s ten-year history.

Solar thermal is already deployed at scale overseas, with the International Energy Agency forecasting the technology will increase ten-fold to 73GW globally by 2030.

Solar thermal technology

Image: Vast Solar

Concentrated solar power systems employ mirrors and receiving towers to gather and store the sun’s energy. It does this by using concentrated sunlight to heat a “curtain” of falling low-cost particles. 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.

The technology has had a disrupted history, from being hailed a great solution, to being wedged out by cheap solar PV coupled with finicky hindrances.

One of those finicky hindrances includes the molten storage systems’ hot tank, which had tended to leak because of thermal cycling and fatigue, resulting in substantial production losses for CSP projects.

However in December, a consortium including Vast Solar filed to patent a new tank design. The new design, it says, substantially mitigates the risk of tank failures.

Vast Solar’s technology has been proven at Vast Solar’s 1 MW pilot plant in Jemalong, New South Wales. The project was awarded the International Energy Agency’s SolarPACES Technical Innovation Award in 2019.

The Jemalong solar farm sits alongside an operational 1.1 MW concentrated solar thermal power pilot plant deployed by Australian CSP specialist Vast Solar.

Photo: ARENA

The company is currently developing several projects in Australia and overseas, including a 50MW baseload solar hybrid in Mount Isa, Queensland. The North West Queensland Hybrid Power Project, as its called, will combine solar PV, a large-scale battery and gas engines with Vast Solar’s concentrated solar thermal power technology. Approvals for the project are expected in the first half of the year, followed by two years of construction. Early generation could start in 2023 as part of a staggered construction program that brings some elements of the hybrid power plant into operations early.

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