A concentrated solar thermal power plant under construction near Forbes shows the renewable energy technology can be affordable and practical, Vast Solar claims.

CEO of the company building the Jemalong Solar Thermal Station pilot plant, Andrew Want, says concentrating solar technology is becoming viable for large-scale power generation around the world.

“Vast Solar’s innovative design achieves high efficiency at low cost,” he said. The system uses small array modules with low-profile towers; a very different approach to the most recent large-scale, single-tower projects commissioned in the USA.

The Jemalong solar thermal station pilot will have 6MWth output (1.1MW electrical) and will be connected to the Essential Energy distribution network. 

Although it will be primarily a research and demonstration plant it will produce enough electricity to power about 400 homes. 

The project will have 3500 mirrors, five towers less than 30 metres high with thermal energy receivers and a thermal energy storage system providing enough energy for three hours’ full power operation, day or night. 

Mr Want said the technology would bring significant economic benefits to Forbes and surrounds, including employment, business tourism and use of local services including engineering, accounting and construction.

“Experience from the USA and Europe shows that up to 70 per cent of the economic value of inputs into a CST plant stay in the area,” he said.

“This presents a huge opportunity for regional Australia.”

Private investors in Australia and Europe provided more than 50 per cent of the funding for the Jemalong plant, with the Commonwealth Government’s Australian Renewable Energy Agency (ARENA) providing the remaining $5 million. 

“Beginning with only three founders and no funds we now employ over 20 people and we’re growing fast,” Mr Want said.

“Our market is global but we’ve developed all our technology locally.”

CST power generation uses the sun’s thermal energy. 

Mirror arrays capture solar energy as heat, the heat is stored and released as needed to generate steam to drive a traditional turbine for electricity generation.

CST systems were first deployed more than 100 years ago, but recent advances have seen a resurgence of large-scale CST projects in the USA, South Africa, Middle East, South America and Europe as these economies reduce their reliance on fossil fuel power. 

“The challenge for broad uptake of CST is more rapid cost reduction,” Mr Want said.

“Vast Solar’s founder and chief technology officer James Fisher saw how smart engineering and design could dramatically reduce CST costs and in the past five years – with the support of our investors and ARENA – we’ve made it happen.”