Port Augusta Solar Thermal Generation Feasibility Study

Why solar?

Alinta Energy is the largest private employer in Port Augusta. Our operations there date back to 1954, so we understand the significance of our role in the community’s history and its future. This is a role we take seriously.

In late 2011, under a context of climate change policies and the growth in renewable energy investment opportunities, Alinta Energy began to assess potential solar thermal opportunities in regional SA. This began with a Solar Concept Study. This study made a number of clear conclusions:

  • South Australia is a high-quality location for solar thermal;
  • Leigh Creek and Port Augusta sites were identified as having sufficient solar resource;
  • stand-alone concentrated solar power based on parabolic trough, linear Fresnel and power tower are all feasible;
  • there is potential for hybrid configurations at Northern Power Station and possible use of Playford facility/components;
  • thermal storage should be considered and incorporated into final designs so the plants are ‘dispatchable’;
  • solar thermal matches South Australia’s generation profile and provides a balance to significant wind resources in the region.

Given the potential identified by the Solar Concept Study, Alinta Energy concluded that further analysis of the technical and commercial viability for solar thermal in the region was justified, and approached Commonwealth and State Governments to seek funding contributions.

If viable, solar thermal generation has the potential to reduce the dependence of the Augusta Power Stations on brown coal and extend their economic life. It also allows for optimisation between fuel sources that has not currently been tested in the Australian market. Finally, solar thermal investment would balance the generation diversity in South Australia and reduce the impacts of excessive wind generation in the state.

How long will the solar thermal feasibility study take?

The full feasibility study is scheduled to last two years, with reportable milestones throughout the process.

What steps are included in the solar thermal full feasibility study?

The first step will be to develop a full project definition report, which will be demonstrated to Government and made available to the public on Alinta’s solar thermal website.

This will outline all milestones and activities that will be included in the full feasibility study, including siting, solar resource assessment, financial review and evaluation, planning approval and licensing, and a review of environment and community implications.

What technologies will the study assess?

The solar thermal full feasibility study will build on work already undertaken by Alinta Energy, specifically the conclusions reached in the Solar Concept Study. This study found that stand-alone concentrated solar power based on parabolic trough, linear Fresnel and power tower could all be feasible. It also identified a strong potential for hybrid configurations at the Northern Power Station or possible use of Playford facilities/components.

The full feasibility study will compare all technologies, with more information to be released as the study progresses.

Is Alinta Energy still thinking about using its existing coal infrastructure?

The full feasibility study will examine both stand-alone and hybrid options. There is a strong case that solar thermal capability could be integrated with the existing site and either (1) connected to the grid utilising surrounding infrastructure or (2) supplement the existing generation unit operations to form a hybrid system.

Government support for solar thermal

How much of the solar thermal feasibility study is the Government funding?

State and Federal Governments are funding approximately half of the full feasibility study. This is made up of $1 million in support from the Australian Renewable Energy Agency’s Emerging Renewables Program, and over $130,000 from the South Australian Government’s Enterprise Zone Fund. Alinta Energy had previously spent ~$250,000 assessing the viability of solar resources both in the Port Augusta and Leigh Creek regions, and is funding the remainder.

Solar thermal and community impacts

Will the solar thermal feasibility study employ additional people?

As part of the full feasibility study, Alinta Energy will be engaging a project manager to progress various elements of the study. The study will not impact current employment numbers in Port Augusta. Where possible, Alinta Energy will seek to engage with local companies to contribute to regional businesses and suppliers as the study progresses.

How will you be sharing the information from this study?

Alinta Energy has established a dedicated website (www.alintaenergy.com.au/Port-Augusta-Solar-Thermal-Generation-Feasibility-Study) to share documentation, news and milestones related to the solar thermal full feasibility study and provide details on public forums arranged to share developments.

In addition, we will utilise our current communication channels to keep stakeholders informed of the process. These include attending local council and business organisation meetings, media releases and regular briefings to our employees.

What is the future for Playford Power Station?

Playford Power Station has been in shutdown since late 2011. It is not expected to run without a reasonable period of notice, and Alinta Energy notified AEMO in April 2012 that the notice period for the station to return to service is approximately 4 months.

One hybrid option that the full feasibility study will explore is possible use of Playford’s facilities and/or components. Alinta Energy has previously undertaken work on this possibility and it is considered technically feasible.

Will this study be impacted by Alinta Energy’s decision to further develop the Leigh Creek Coalfield?

Alinta Energy’s investment into the solar thermal feasibility study and our existing coal resource are not mutually exclusive. They provide a balanced and sustainable future for the region’s employment and the state’s energy diversity and security.

Together, both investments:

  • provide economic security to the communities and people who depend on us as an employer;
  • provide security of supply to the South Australian market and consumers;
  • balance South Australia’s generation diversity, by investigating renewables other than wind.