A project planned for sunny South Australia will be the world’s largest single solar thermal power plant when it comes on line in 2020. The Aurora Solar Energy Project will have a capacity of 150 MW, which is enough to supply 90,000 people with electricity.
The plant uses mirrors called heliostats – thousands of them – to reflect and concentrate sunlight onto the top of a 740-foot-tall tower where it will heat up molten salt. The heated salt is then used to operate a steam turbine that generates electricity. The molten salt is stored and can retain its heat for up to 10 hours. The total storage capacity in the molten salt tanks is about 110 MW. As a result, the plant can operate pretty much around the clock, resulting in a solar power plant that provides reliable baseload power.
This kind of solar power plant is starting to play a growing role in the world. The largest such installation in the world is the Ivanpah plant in California, whose three towers have a total capacity of 292 MW. In Israel, the Ashalim energy project will combine solar thermal energy, solar photovoltaic energy, and energy storage for a combined capacity of 310 MW.
The Aurora plant will be built by the U.S. company Solar Reserve. The company has built or is building 10 concentrating solar power plants in Nevada, Chile, and South Africa as well as the project in Australia. The company’s Crescent Dunes Solar Energy Facility in Nevada was the first utility-scale facility in the world to feature the molten salt storage capability in a solar tower energy plant. It came on line in 2015 and provides enough electricity to power 75,000 homes in Nevada.
Photo, posted January 15, 2017, courtesy of Wojtek Siudzinski via Flickr.