WESTERN Australia’s concentrated solar thermal power (CSP) potential has been assessed in a world first study that has found previous assumptions overestimate realistic site suitability for the technology.
The study published in Energy Policy, aimed to realistically assess CSP site suitability and found it is highly dependent on the availability of infrastructure and load.
In the most commercially mature CSP technology (parabolic trough), fields of concave shaped mirrors track the sun and reflect sunlight into receiver tubes at their focal point that hold heat transfer fluid.
The fluid carries absorbed heat through a series of exchangers producing steam, which is then transformed into conventional electricity.
Study author and Stockholm University's Lucas Dawson says new loads and transmission infrastructure in particular will open up suitable areas for utility CSP.
“Central WA is one of the best places in the world in terms of solar availability,” Mr Dawson says.
“It’s really the fact that WA is underdeveloped in terms of basic infrastructure that is curtailing the true potential of CSP.”
The total area identified as showing medium to very high suitability in WA was only 11,273km2 while 70 per cent of WA was deemed 'technically suitable' but subject to exclusions due to lack of requirements.
Mr Dawson says specific results give CSP decision makers opportunities to focus their attentions on developing these sites immediately.
He says despite the results WA’s estimated technical production potential, the amount of electricity hypothetically produced from all of WA’s 'technically suitable' area, is 908,000 TW h/year while the total global electricity consumption in 2008 was 18,000 TW h/year—that is enough to power the world for a year 50 times over.
Highly suitable areas include mines sites and towns in the Pilbara and central north, the coastal plain from Perth to Geraldton and sites as far south as Kalgoorlie–Boulder.
Mr Dawson consulted 10 key stakeholders; the Western Australian Office of Energy, Horizon Power, BHP Billiton, Worley Parsons, Lycopodium Minerals, Australian Venture Consultants, Midwest Energy, Bright Generation, WA Sustainable Energy Association and Sustainable Energy Now.
Stakeholders were asked to rank criteria important to parabolic trough technology including; land availability and incline, access to electricity infrastructure, auxiliary fuel supply, load, water supply, weather and solar radiation supply.
Availability of solar resource, access to water and proximity to roads, load and auxiliary fuels were highly ranked.
Availability of water is critical because it is used for cooling—dry cooling technology, although available, reduces electricity yields and increases capital costs.
Likewise cyclone risks in the northern coastal region restrict opportunities for sites due to increased construction requirements.
The weighted criteria and stakeholder answers were ranked and using Geographic Information System based methodology, suitable sites for utility scale plants (over 10MW) were established.