The new chief of the Australian Solar Thermal Research Initiative (ASTRI) says the cost of producing solar thermal power in Australia could be halved by 2020.
Solar scientist and former chair of the International Energy Agency’s SolarPACES executive committee, Dr Manuel J. Blanco, was last week appointed Director of ASTRI – an $87 million initiative announced in December last year.
The Initiative’s aim is to bring the cost of solar thermal power down from 25 cents per kilowatt hour to around 10 cents over eight years, bringing it into line with other major sources of renewable energy such as photovoltaic (PV) solar and wind power; with an ultimate goal of achieving grid parity with fossil fuels.
The CSIRO-led project comes under the umbrella of The Australian Solar Institute and Australian Renewable Energy Agency, in collaboration with six national universities and the United States’ Department of Energy’s National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL), Sandia National Laboratories and Arizona State University.
As head of Spain’s Solar Thermal Energy Department, Dr Blanco oversaw the installation of that country’s first utility-scale solar thermal power plant. He says that with the some of the best solar resources in the world, Australia can substantially reduce the cost of solar thermal power.
“It is a natural fit for an international solar thermal research collaboration to use this resource and our expertise to make solar power the cheapest, cleanest energy source it can be,” Dr Blanco said.
“We will reduce the cost of solar thermal to just 12 cents a kilowatt hour by 2020 and provide zero-emission energy to people when they need it. It’s a technological leap but we will do it. We are working with the best in the world.”
Solar thermal technology focuses sunlight using mirrors or lenses onto a central point, creating steam that drives a turbine. Some solar thermal facilities incorporate heat storage so electricity can still be generated at night.