World's largest ever thermal solar plant to be built in South Australia


Industry Dynamics



The government of South Australia has given planning approval to a major solar thermal plant which, the developers say, would be the largest of its kind ever built.

The project is being developed by US company Solar Reserve at a budgeted cost of A$650m (£380m), and construction is set to begin this year.  

This will be the latest move from the southern Australian state to cement its reputation as both a national and international leader in renewable energy.

“This important milestone is a significant step in the development of the Aurora solar thermal power station, which will bring Solar Reserve’s world-leading clean power generation technology to South Australia,” said Solar Reserve’s CEO, Kevin Smith.

The development follows Tesla’s construction of the world’s largest lithium ion battery in South Australia, which has already helped provide power during energy outages.

Upon the launch of the battery, South Australian Premier Jay Weatherill said the state is “leading the world in dispatchable renewable energy”.

Renewable energy has seen extensive investment in recent years, and a report released by the Conservation Council of South Australia in 2015 concluded the state could be powered by 100 per cent renewable energy by 2030.

The report found around 40 per cent of South Australian power came from wind and solar, and over a quarter of houses were fitted with rooftop solar panels.

 “South Australia has the highest penetration of renewables in the world,” said Sara Bell, founder of energy company Tempus Energy, who has worked extensively in Australia.

“They are kind of lucky with their resources – a lot of places that have the kind of climate they do have lots of solar but very little wind.”

The mountain ranges found in the southern state, combined with its position by the sea, mean it has plenty of capacity for wind power as well as solar.

Labour state politicians in South Australia have been highly supportive of renewable energy.

“They are deeply committed to decarbonisation, whereas the federal government is a virtual climate denier,” said Ms Bell.

The new development will be located near Port Augusta, the site of the last coal power station in South Australia.

It will make use of solar thermal technology, and a molten salt tower to capture and store the sun’s energy.  

The plant will use an array of panels, which function like mirrors and direct solar rays to a point in a central, salt-filled tower, heating the salt to a high temperature.

This heat energy can be stored in the “salt battery”, and then used to create steam and generate electricity.

Solar Reserve has claimed the new plant will be able to power around 35 per cent of all of the households in South Australia.

“The remarkable story of the transition of Port Augusta from coal to renewable energy – which won a competitive tender against fossil fuel – is also a preview of the future of power generation around the world,” said Mr Smith.

Ms Bell agreed that renewable energy in the region is setting an example for the rest of the world.

“It has put South Australia on the map,” she said.