The People’s Power

It’s the dawn of a new era for South Australia’s energy storage technology, with a major US company set to establish an office in Adelaide by the end of 2017 and work on the $650 billion Aurora solar-thermal plant at Port Augusta expected to begin early next year

Thousands of mirrors soaking up the sun will soon turn a dusty stretch of earth near a remote South Australian town into the largest solar-thermal plant of its kind in the world.

Work on a $650 million Aurora solar-thermal plant at Port Augusta – 300km north of Adelaide – is expected to start in February after renewable energy company SolarReserve signed a key 20-year power purchase agreement with the SA Government in August this year.

The US company is also set to open an Adelaide office before the end of the year and set up research partnerships with SA universities in the lead-up to enhancing the state’s energy mix over the next few decades.

The planned 150MW solar-thermal installation will use 12,000 mirrors to direct sunlight at a 227m tower.

The project is subject to a $110 million loan from the Federal Government. In return, SolarReserve has promised 4000 direct and indirect jobs during construction, and a further 50 permanent roles and the potential to build a new industry. “SolarReserve’s energy storage technology is an excellent fit for the South Australian electricity system,” says SolarReserve chief executive Kevin Smith. “Aurora will provide much-needed capacity and firm energy delivery into the South Australian market to reduce price volatility.”

SolarReserve has commercialised its proprietary ThermaVault advanced solar thermal technology with integrated molten salt energy storage, which delivers renewable energy that is dispatchable 24/7. “The technology is now one of the world’s leading energy storage technologies, and allows solar energy to operate like traditional fossil-fired and nuclear electricity generation,” the company says in a release.

Besides sharing its learnings with the universities, the company has also promised to buy equipment and services in South Australia, targeting 60 per cent of the contractors locally.

This will support an entirely new industry and develop a supply chain which will be leveraged for other solar thermal projects in South Australia and the broader region.

The heliostats for the solar thermal project will also be assembled locally.

About 200,000 tonnes of carbon dioxide is expected to be displaced each year when the plant generates more than 500 gigawatt-hours of power, or 5 per cent of SA’s energy needs.

SolarReserve, which was formed in 2008, has built a plant showcasing this technology in the Nevada desert in the US. The $1 billion Crescent Dunes plant features 10,000 large mirrors focusing light to the top of a 195m tower to heat the salt, which is used to generate steam and produce electricity.

The facility has just come back online after an eight-month shutdown due to a small leak in a tank filled with molten salt.

The State Government is confident in the technology and design of the plant and doesn’t expect the same problem, which it blamed on a “construction execution issue”.

Project Overview

Location: 30km north of Port Augusta on a vast pastoral station.

Technology: Solar thermal with molten salt thermal energy storage.

Electricity: More than 500 gigawatt-hours annually, which is around 5 per cent of SA’s energy needs. Equivalent of more than 90,000 homes, day and night.

Project status: Generation Project Agreement (GPA) with the State Government of South Australia signed August 14, 2017. Each year, 200,000 tonnes of CO2 will be displaced.


The Benefits

  • Heliostats will be assembled in South Australia.
  • By the end of 2017, SolarReserve will open an office in Adelaide which will serve as its permanent Australian headquarters.
  • SolarReserve will partner with local universities to further solar-thermal research and education in South Australia.
  • 4000 direct and indirect jobs created during
    construction; 50 full-time, permanent jobs for operations and maintenance.


WORDS – Valerina Changarathil