The first industrial-scale concentrated solar power technology enabling horticultural activities in the desert has gone online in South Australia today. With the official opening ceremony conducted this morning, the solar energy system developed by Aalborg CSP is already producing renewable energy and desalinated fresh water to secure the production of 17,000,000kg sustainable tomatoes a year – this accounts for approximately 15% of Australia’s entire tomato market.


Growing vegetables in the desert. What sounds like a utopian solution to the world’s increasing food security concerns has now become reality with the official opening of a revolutionary arid-farming plant. On the 6th of October, Sundrop Farms, a pioneer in sustainable agriculture for the arid world, inaugurated their 200,000m2 state-of-the-art greenhouses in Port Augusta (SA). Contrary to conventional food production facilities, Sundrop Farms’ glasshouses do not rely on fossil fuels and freshwater resources. Instead, they use sunlight and seawater to grow 17,000,000kg vegetables a year in an area that has traditionally been unsuitable for agriculture.

To satisfy the greenhouses dynamic energy needs, Danish renewable energy specialist, Aalborg CSP developed a customized Integrated Energy System based on the concentrated solar power (CSP) technology – the first one in the world to supply multiple energy streams (heating, electricity and desalinated water) for horticultural activities. With the final ribbon-cutting ceremony taking place, the solar energy system has also been put into full-time operation today, meeting the expected operational deadline defined at the project start.


Strong partnerships are essential to the Sundrop model and Aalborg CSP have consistently delivered on promises and guaranteed the reliable operation of our greenhouse, contributing to the success of this truly sustainable, world-first facility” said Philipp Saumweber, CEO of Sundrop Farms, at the opening ceremony.


Harvesting the sun in the most efficient way


Unlike other CSP plants in the world that produce a single energy output, such as electricity only, the Integrated Energy System in Port Augusta harnesses the sun in the most efficient way to satisfy multiple energy demands. More than 23,000 heliostats (computer-controlled mirrors) installed in the desert ground collect the sun’s rays and reflect them onto the top of a 127m high solar tower. Here, the concentration of energy generates high temperatures which is then used to heat the greenhouses in wintertime and on cold summer nights, to provide fresh water by desalinating seawater drawn from the nearby Spencer Gulf (5 km from the site) and to periodically run a steam turbine to produce electricity. Energy production is tailored to the seasonal needs of the greenhouses and is balanced throughout the year to achieve the lowest possible energy costs.


The Integrated Energy System is the first of its kind in the world and it changes the way we are thinking about energy production today. It is an intelligent way to sustainably satisfy different energy needs in remote areas at the time the industrial facility would need it” – explains Svante Bundgaard, CEO of Aalborg CSP.


Besides offering a cost-competitive alternative to conventional energy technologies, the system contributes to a greener future as it avoids the emission of up to 16,000 tons of CO2 annually. This is equivalent to 3,100 cars removed from the roads in a year.