Major industry names on solar panel

13/08/2008 - 22:00

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A consortium headed by WorleyParsons is embarking on a major study to develop a series of 250-megawatt advanced solar thermal power stations across Australia.

Major industry names on solar panel

A consortium headed by WorleyParsons is embarking on a major study to develop a series of 250-megawatt advanced solar thermal power stations across Australia.

WorleyParsons this week formally announced the study, which will be jointly funded by industry partners including Rio Tinto, Fortescue Metals Group Ltd, BHP Billiton, Woodside and Wesfarmers.

Western Power, Verve Energy and Water Corporation are also members of the consortium of key energy stakeholders.

While potential sites for the first plant were not disclosed, the Pilbara region was flagged as a possibility.

WorleyParsons managing director economics, Peter Meurs, said phase one of the study into advanced solar thermal utility scale power was currently under way.

He said the first plants would cost about $1 billion, with the cost likely to progressively scale down over time.

Mr Meurs said the group was targeting 2011 as the start of operations at the first 250MW plant which, when built, would be the largest plant of its kind in the world.

The study will investigate the potential of 33 additional plants being built by 2020. If successful, these will provide half of the renewable energy required to meet the government's mandatory renewable energy target by that date.

Mr Meurs said the timing was right for the development of the project, with the impending emissions trading scheme placing a price on carbon and the rising cost of fuel, particularly diesel.

"This is a unique opportunity for Australia to take the leadership position in this," he said.

Mr Meurs said the project had received strong support from both industry and state governments, with the WA, SA and NSW governments particularly interested in hosting projects in their state.

A 250MW solar thermal plant would cover an area roughly measuring three kilometres by two kilometres, which would hold an array of large, reflective parabolic dishes, which focus the sun's heat onto a thin pipe encompassing a fluid.

The heated fluid goes through a heat exchange process to create steam, which drives a turbine to create electricity.

Solar thermal is considered to cost less per MW than solar photovoltaic systems, or solar cells.

It also has the added advantage of being able to be able to store heat to generate electricity outside sunlight hours.

The study hopes to provide a clearer picture of the economics of the project, which will target production costs at about 15 cents/ MW hour.

The results of the study should be known by the end of the year, with commitment from customers required early next year to meet the 2011 target start date.

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