Vast Solar lands $65 million for ‘first-of-a-kind’ concentrated solar power plant


The Australian Renewable Energy Agency (ARENA) confirmed it has approved $65 million (USD 44.95 million) in funding to Vast Solar to construct VS1, a “first-of-a-kind” concentrated solar power (CSP) plant north of Port Augusta.

Vast Solar Chief Executive Officer Craig Wood said the $203 million project seeks to demonstrate the technical and operational performance of the company’s modular CSP technology at utility scale, helping to unlock further investment in future projects and provide another pathway for Australian industry to decarbonise.

“The world-leading VS1 plant will have an important impact on the future of clean, dispatchable energy generation in Australia and globally, allowing us to sustainably power electricity grids overnight,” he said.

“We are grateful to the Australian government who are taking a clear stand to support the energy transition in Australia, creating jobs and supporting local industry.”

Vast Solar’s CSP technology utilises mirrors to concentrate and capture heat from the sun in solar receivers, with high temperature heat transferred via liquid sodium and stored in molten salt. The stored energy can then be used to heat water to create steam to drive a turbine and produce electricity, or the heat can also be used directly to decarbonise some industrial processes.

The Sydney-based developer said its technology allows plants to be configured with four to 16 hours of storage and generators of up to 500 MW.

Wood said one of the benefits of CSP is that the captured heat can be stored cost-effectively for long periods with little loss of energy. This means that CSP can be used to generate electricity or provide heat on demand, including overnight.

Vast Solar has been operating a 1 MW pilot plant at Jemalong since 2018.

Image: Vast Solar

The technology is on show at Jemalong in regional New South Wales where a 1 MW pilot plant, which was constructed adjacent to a 50 MW solar PV project, has been delivering electricity to the grid since early 2018.

ARENA Chief Executive Officer Darren Miller said the expansion of Vast Solar’s technology into a commercial-scale project illustrates that CSP technology could play an important role in generating and storing renewable energy at scale.

“With the increasing need for dispatchable renewable generation and longer duration energy storage, CSP has potential to assist Australia’s energy transition alongside pumped hydro and large-scale batteries,” he said.

ARENA’s funding for VS1 is conditional upon the project reaching financial close, which is targeted to occur in late 2023. VS1 is expected to take two years to build with commercial operations commencing late 2025.

This latest funding announcement comes after Vast Solar recently secured almost $40 million as part of the HyGate program, a collaboration between the Australian and German governments to establish a green hydrogen supply chain between the two nations.

Vast Solar is also seeking to establish a full-scale production facility to manufacture its heliostats and solar receivers.

Image: Vast Solar

That funding will support Vast Solar, as part of the broader Solar Methanol Consortium, to develop a green methanol production plant which will be co-located with VS1 near Port Augusta.

The Solar Methanol 1 (SM1) project entails the use of a 10 MW electrolyser for the manufacture of green hydrogen as an input to green methanol production. Electricity and heat generated by the VS1 project will be used to power the electrolyser. It is anticipated the facility will produce 7,500 tonnes of green methanol per annum.

Energy Minister Chris Bowen said Vast Solar’s home-grown CSP technology could be a “game changer” for Australia, helping support the government’s goal of getting the electricity grid to 82% renewables by 2030.

“Making this technology commercially viable on a larger scale could go a long way to meeting the growing need for dispatchable renewable energy, energy security and longer duration storage,” he said.

The VS1 project is expected to generate up to 450 regional jobs during construction and 70 ongoing operational roles in long-term manufacturing, plant operations and maintenance.

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