The technology of CSP systems has reached a high level of commercial maturity and the level of deployment has been growing at around 40 per cent per year since 2005.

Resources and Energy Minister Gary Gray has launched new online tools supported by the Australian Renewable Energy Agency (ARENA) that will help researchers, developers and financiers assess the commercial prospects of CST power projects in Australia.

“Concentrating solar thermal systems have the potential to play a significant role in future electricity networks as they can store energy, which means clean energy can be dispatched to homes and businesses at anytime of the day or night,” Gray said. 

“Through ARENA, the Government is investing in technologies and projects that will increase the use of renewable energy in Australia.”

We said the new tools will take the model used in the US – a leader in the field – and optimise them to allow interested parties to see whether CST projects are commercially viable.

There are four basic approaches – trough concentrators, tower/heliostat systems, linear Fresnel concentrators and dish concentrators, in declining order of deployment and commercial maturity.

Predicting the output of a CSP system is a complex process. Thermal systems include multiple subsystem, the behaviour of which at any point in time depends not only on the instantaneous conditions the whole system experiences, but also the recent history of its operation.

There is a wide range of approaches to modelling CSP systems and research and development on the systems is ongoing. The System Advisor Model (SAM) was developed by the US Department of Energy’s National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL) and adapted for Australian conditions by the Australian Solar Thermal Energy Association (AUSTELA) through a $73,500 ARENA investment.

It provides information that can help a developer make an assessment of a proposed site’s suitability, the economic performance of the system and the financial viability of the project.

The SAM model is general purpose in nature and can predict hourly, monthly and annual output of CSP, CPV, flat plate PV and a range of other renewable energy systems.

“This type of analysis is critical to attracting investors and will help pave the way for the energy industry and the finance sector to deploy concentrating solar thermal technologies in Australia,” Gray said.

Research in Australia and around the world continues to highlight the benefits of solar thermal power generation in modern electricity systems.

This includes stable, reliable power generation to support electricity network stability, complementing other more variable renewable energy technologies such as wind and photovoltaic power; reliable electric power and high-temperature steam for mining and industrial processes, which reduce fuel costs and pricing risks for Australia’s economy; and easy integration with other thermal power sources such as biomass, geothermal and gas for reliable 24/7 hybrid power generation.