Plans for Forbes solar thermal project

A solar thermal project near Forbes will demonstrate how cost effective renewable energy can be once its development application is approved.

Three-and-a-half thousand moving mirrors, each bigger than a plasma television, will follow the sun like a field of sunflowers.

The mirrors will reflect light onto five thermal receivers sitting on towers that will heat a central steam turbine, capable of producing 1.1 megawatts of electricity.

The company behind the project, Vast Solar, already has 700 mirrors and one tower at Jemalong Station. 

The development application says 15 local jobs will open after building commences in the second quarter of 2014.

CEO of the green tech company, Andrew Want, said they were now ready to demonstrate the financial benefits of renewable energy.

He said investing in renewable energy was good business sense.

“We have a business man’s focus,” Mr Want said.

He said Vast Solar made sure the economics were sound before they set out to build a solar thermal plant.

“We haven’t started with an invention and tried to figure out the economics.”

Mr Want’s background is in law and he views the world with a risk management perspective. 

Continuing to rely on fossil fuels to power the 

nation is dangerous for the economy, Mr Want says.

A common belief is that only fossil fuels can provide a reliable supply of electricity, but Mr Want said the solar plant at Jemalong would be able to produce electricity after dark.

Unlike solar panels, which stop creating energy when clouds pass, the solar thermal plant will have the capacity to store the heat it collects.

Vast Solar has relied on funding from their research partners to get to this stage, however, Mr Want is confident the solar array will make money soon.

“Our goal is $100 per megawatt hour,” Mr Want said.

A solar thermal array at a plant in Spain. Photo from Sydney Morning Herald.

A solar thermal array at a plant in Spain. Photo from Sydney Morning Herald.

Currently the wholesale price for electricity is around $60 per megawatt hour.

The price gap between the solar plant and the price of the energy market, which is dominated by fossil fuels, is due to the clean nature of solar power, Mr Want said.

“It costs more for the benefit of not having the waste.”

While the market puts a low price on coal power, the ash, pollution and health effects of burning coal were not considered, he said.

“None of that’s being costed until now.”

The system at Jemalong Station will produce no waste after building is complete. 

Some ground water would need to be extracted, but Mr Want said that would be a “very small amount”.

The company’s plan is to use a method called air condenser cooling. 

If things go ahead as planned then no water would be used inside the plant, Mr Want said, although the company would need access to water as a back-up. 

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