AUSTELA Chair Andrew Want discusses the System Advisor Model project, which set out to improve the accessibility of the technology for Australian Concentrated Solar Power (CSP) users.

The aim of the project was to develop the necessary tools and additions to allow the System Advisor Model (SAM) to provide the same level of benefit for application to Australian geographical and market conditions as it does to the US. Prior to this project, a number of characteristics made it difficult for SAM to be usefully applied in Australia. The pre-existing CSP models in SAM were not easily accessible for new users and had US-centric financial settings.

The Australian Solar Thermal Energy Association (AUSTELA) lead the project with IT Power Australia. The Australian Renewable Energy Agency provided $73,000 funding for the project under the former Australian Solar Institute program.

How does the SAM make performance predictions and cost of energy estimations?

SAM uses a range of data as to cost of major components and system efficiency, and in effect simulates the performance of a concentrated solar power (CSP) plant built at a particular location, with a particular level of solar resource for that location.

Users set parameters for the CSP plant, such as nameplate generation capacity, thermal energy storage capacity and so on, and SAM draws on existing cost data to generate a plant cost according to the user’s specifications.

Why is the levelised cost of energy (LCOE) the most frequently used economic performance metric for power generation plant?

It is a legacy of the centralised energy generation system, which does not contemplate energy storage. LCOE only compares the cost of generating a megawatt hour (MWh) of electricity; it does not take account the relative value of the electricity generated. For example, 1 MWh of energy from a wind turbine operating at 3 AM, when demand is low (generation at such a time may even be surplus to energy required in the network) is not as valuable as 1 MWh of electricity generated by a CSP plant from its thermal energy storage at 7 PM on a summer evening when demand is high and prices may be many times higher. LCOE does not consider the value, only the cost.

Why is SAM a useful system for projecting CSP system performance and economics in particular?

SAM draws on significant depth of data and expertise, accumulated and refined over many years, about the performance of CSP and other renewable energy systems. It is regularly updated as new cost and performance data become available.