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Deakin expert welcomes SA’s solar thermal plant

Understanding the construction of the world’s largest solar thermal plant.

Deakin Law School’s energy regulation and policy expert Professor Samantha Hepburn has welcomed a decision by the South Australian government to construct the world’s largest solar thermal plant.

Based in Port Augusta, construction of the $650M, 150-megawatt Aurora Solar Energy Project will commence next year with an expected completion date of 2020.

Prof. Hepburn, Director of the Centre for Energy and Natural Resource Law (CENRL), said the project represents a significant development in South Australia’s transition to renewable power production and its pursuit for improved energy security.  

‘The plant will use concentrated solar power (CSP) to generate large scale energy production with a predicted 150MW and eight hour battery storage. The power will be generated using lenses or mirrors to reflect and concentrate sunlight, create heat and convert it into thermal energy. The proposal will help to make the market more competitive and coheres with climate change imperatives.’

At the 14 August announcement, SA’s Premier Jay Weatherhill said the project will enhance the state’s reputation as a leader in clean, cheap renewable energy.

‘We are supporting this nation-leading renewable energy project because it will deliver more competition into our energy market and put downward pressure on power prices for households and businesses.’

Prof. Hepburn explained that by drawing on the construction of similar US-based plants, the project will be developed using $110 million of concessional loan from the government.

‘The government will grant a 20 year contract to buy 125MW of the power generated by the plant. This provides price stability and means there is capacity for the plant to also supply elsewhere.’

Due to the size of the land required and the necessary access to transmission lines, a key regulatory issue with CSP construction is often licensing and siting.

‘The proposed plant is set to be built 30km out of town on state-owned land so this will resolve many of these concerns,’ said Prof. Hepburn.

She added that once operational, the Aurora Solar Energy Project will require ongoing scrutiny for efficiency.

‘In the long term, it will necessary to monitor the effectiveness of production – given the financial subsidies provided by the state – and to evaluate the power project agreement between Solar Reserve and the South Australian government that is providing key financial backing for the project.’

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