What The Hell Is Solar Thermal And Why It's A Big Deal For SA

A Quick Explainer

What The Hell Is Solar Thermal And Why It's A Big Deal For SA

After years of lobbying Port Augusta is getting a new $650 million solar thermal power plant.

It's the latest announcement in the State Government's energy plan and - all being well - will supply all of the government's power needs over a 20-year contract.

The deal will see Solar Reserve foot the bill to build the plant next year and it'll be finished by 2020.

Capacity will be 150MW but normal output will be closer to 135MW with the ability to generate more power in peak times.

The plant will be built on state-owned land about 30 kilometres north of Port Augusta where it'll be able to store up to 10 hours of energy.

That means it'll be able to run even when the sun isn't shining.


So what is solar thermal and how does it all work?

Well, it involves a lot of massive billboard-sized mirrors, measuring 100 square metres and arranged in a circle spread over 600 hectares.

These mirrors will reflect light (and heat) onto a 227 metre tower said to be the tallest of its kind in the world.

The process the heats molten salt which is pumped to the top of the tower and flows through to a receiver.

The steam that's generated drives a single turbine that makes electricity and can keep on doing so at full load for up to 8 hours after the sun goes down.

The design is inspired by a solar thermal plant already running in the U.S. state of Nevada.

Any renewable energy that's generated and unused, can be fed back into the grid to shore up stability and supply.

Construction will start next year and create 700 jobs - 650 during construction, and 50 ongoing.

The project's also reliant on a $110 million loan from the Federal Government, negotiated by Nick Xenophon during talks on company tax cuts.