Australia Solar Thermal Plant: Messed up reporting

SolarReserve will build, for the South Australia government, a solar thermal plant rated at 150 MW, which is about 25 MW more than that government uses currently. Over time, assuming Australia goes all on clean and green, the amount of electricity used by South Australia will increase substantially, but for now, this plant will provide the extra to the regional grid.

A solar plant is a way of making the use of solar more full time. Instead of just producing electricity by sunlight, perhaps storing some in batteries, it uses sunlight to produce heat, which is then used to run a turbine all day and all night, and across periods of cloudiness (which are rare in the case of this particular plant’s location).

Putting it another way, this kind of plant solves the problem that clean energy tends to be intermittent. Putting it still another way, this kind of plant reduces the need to store electricity that may be overproduced or produced irregularly by photovoltaic solar or wind plants.

But the reporting of this story sadly demonstrates counterproductive lousy anti-clean energy commentary delivered in an envelope of crap reporting (because the reporter did not understand the story enough to ask the right questions). Here is a quote from the story in The Guardian

<blockquoteWasim Saman, professor of sustainable ernergy engineering at the University of South Australia, said solar thermal was a more economical way of storing energy than using batteries.

“The significance of solar thermal generation lies in its ability to provide energy virtually on demand,” he said.

But Dr Matthew Stocks, a research fellow in the research school of engineering at the Australian National University, said solar thermal also had limits.

“One of the big challenges for solar thermal as a storage tool is that it can only store heat. If there is an excess of electricity in the system because the wind is blowing strong, it cannot efficiently use it to store electrical power to shift the energy to times of shortage, unlike batteries and pumped hydro,” he said..

No. Investing in this kind of plant is a move to reduce the problem of storage.

Show me an article about a new nuclear power plant, an upgrade to a coal plant, or a new natural gas plant, that mentions that these technologies are not batteries. This is nothing other than a senseless contrary opinion pulled out of the nether regions of a reporter’s notebook. The search for false balance continues even at the Guardian, which really should know better.

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22 thoughts on “Australia Solar Thermal Plant: Messed up reporting

  1. Nuclear has a capacity factor of 92%, meaning almost full time. So the fact that it does not include a battery is not an urgent problem.

    1. And thermal solar is meant to operate full time as well, so the fact that it does not include a battery is not an urgent problem. Yet, because it is not coal or nuclear, it is required to dance backwards and in high heels.

  2. Right now, SA is generating 2155MW, 1350MW of which is coming from Wind, and 285MW from rooftop solar.
    An extra 150MW of thermal solar is a step in the right direction, especially if the government thinks that a maximum of $78/MWh will cover the costs – that actually sounds incredibly cheap for solar thermal.

  3. “Nuclear has a capacity factor of 92%”

    The USA reports it as that, and only for the old designs (easy now they haven’t made any new ones). DAWES gets 60%, and France ~65%. The USA is an outlier. Mostly because they don’t include scheduled outages or the downtime during the summer when they stop the production to do maintenance (because it would likely fail in several placed due to not enough or cold enough cooling water, same as happens in France in summer).

    So, yeah, 92% is a load of bullshit. It’s closer to 60%.

  4. “meaning almost full time”

    Wrong. See above.

    “So the fact that it does not include a battery is not an urgent problem.”

    Wrong again. When a nuke station does offline it does so unexpectedly and therefore needs sufficient backup in alternative generation.

    It doesn’t use batteries, it uses several complete generators standing by, some able to come up in minutes that last a couple of hours, and others that take a couple of hours to come up.

    Generators are more expensive than batteries.

  5. Wow #5:

    Here is a blurb from xcel about a nuclear power plant from Minnesota:

    “Prairie Island is among Xcel Energy’s lowest-cost sources of generation on a per megawatt-hour basis, and it does not produce any greenhouse gas emissions. The plant runs essentially 24 hours a day, seven days per week, except during refueling outages, which occur approximately every 18 months and last about four to six weeks.”

    18 months is 72 weeks.

    taking six weeks of outage every 18 months means 66/72 = 91.66% uptime.

    I think Robert is correct, if you round to the nearest whole number.

    We should be building more nuclear in the USA.

  6. Yeah, they don’t include expected outages, such as during summer or when they plan to take it down for maintenance or refuelling. You DO know they need fuel, right, dick?

    Frequently they do this during the summer which is a reasonable thing to do.

    But it still means it’s not “almost full time”. It’s almost full time it’s planned to be running. 8% unexpected failures.

    And with new designs their figures drop to about the 60% mark that every other nuclear first world country does.

  7. “We should be building more nuclear in the USA.”

    You should pay for it, then.

    Don’t make the taxpayer pay for it. Companies aren’t paying for it, hence the closure of two planned nuke power stations in the USA.

    Oh,and don’t make anyone have to buy nuke power. Sign up for the nuclear power and get your bill portion of the running costs of the site (and their ROI) but people who don’t sign up don’t get billed for the much more expensive nuclear power.

  8. “how long it can output 150MW when the solar panels are not producing”

    Pretty much 24/7. They size it for that use. Make the thermal source big enough and make extraction rates small enough and you never drop overnight.

    Make the thermal source smaller (cheaper) and it won’t manage longer nights.

    Make the extraction rate higher (more coolant pushed through) and it will produce more power, but it won’t manage longer nights.

    It’s sized to manage 24/7 if 24/7 operation is what it’s wanted for.

  9. “solves the problem that clean energy tends to be intermittent.”

    Of course the problem nuclear has is it is unresponsive or more expensive.

    The problem fossil fuel plants have is they either peakers and therefore much more expensive or they’re unresponsive.

    All power forms have problems.

    We found ways to deal with fossil fuel powers’ problems. Suck up the fact of brownouts or paying more. We found a way to deal with nuke’s unresponsiveness by inventing “baseload” and using nukes for that only.

    We’ll find (and are finding) ways around renewables’ problems.

    PS geothermal, tide and biomass are not intermittent. So it’snot even a problem for “renewables”. It’s only a problem for solar and wind, both of which are very predictably intermittent (on the order of days). Much like outages for refuelling in other power generators.

    And it’s as moronic to whine about “solar intermittency” when exactly as many people are calling for all power to be done by SPV alone as are calling for it all to be nuclear power alone. But you never hear anyone complaining about nuke fluffers demanding that asinine case, do you? Because renewable proponents have better arguments than that and nuke fluffers have nothing better than such stupid claims.

  10. USA’s Energy Information Administration has been reporting on monthly capacity factors since January 2015 (yearly since 2013). This one is for non-fossil. https://www.eia.gov/electricity/monthly/epm_table_grapher.php?t=epmt_6_07_b
    A critical metric, for anyone concerned about CO2 emissions is how many grams of CO2 are emitted per kilo-watt hour. This link contains most of Europe, interesting to compare Alberta and Ontario in Canada electricitymap.org .

  11. They don’t include the CO2 produced in getting the fuel. Since wind, solar, tide and geothermal at least have the fuel come to them for free, there’s zero footprint there.

  12. You are referring to “Life Cycle Analysis” which you can read the details about here from the National Renewable Energy Laboratory and UN’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. The median numbers are used in the electricitymap.org https://www.nrel.gov/analysis/sustain_lca_results.html For example it would include the mining of iron and producing into steel that wind turbines need https://carboncounter.wordpress.com/2015/06/11/can-you-make-a-wind-turbine-without-fossil-fuels-2/

  13. Aye, but that report is almost never repeated in claiming CO2 figures per kwh.

    And please note that when you make the wind turbine, you are no longer calling it “per kwh” since when building you are not producing anything, so any CO2 produced, even a sparrow’s fart, is infinite CO2 per kwh.

    Hence that report is lifecycle. And rather depends on a whole slew of assumptions any of which can be disputed or wrong going forward.

    But if you do per kwh, then you know it’s basically when 100% of the generator is fueled 100% of the time, so you need to include CO2 per kwh of fuel. And the assertion is therefore much less open to fiddling and misrepresentation.

  14. OK, this was where I originally tried commenting.

    This guy Stocks, who is supposedly a research engineer, says:

    “One of the big challenges for solar thermal as a storage tool is that it can only store heat. If there is an excess of electricity in the system because the wind is blowing strong, it cannot efficiently use it to store electrical power to shift the energy to times of shortage, unlike batteries and pumped hydro,” he said..

    But actually, you could simply add a resistance heating system to such a plant, so that on a cloudy day, excess wind-generated electricity could be used to heat the existing storage fluid. That’s as close to 100% efficiency as you can get.

    (Obviously you work out the cost/benefit based on projections of local weather conditions, but certainly there would be locations where it could work,)

  15. But actually, you could simply add a resistance heating system to such a plant, so that on a cloudy day, excess wind-generated electricity could be used to heat the existing storage fluid. That’s as close to 100% efficiency as you can get.

    Speaking of energy storage, in South Africa we’re a water stressed country, so we have a lot of dams, so we use pumped storage.
    If there is a sudden drop in demand, there is still a lot of spare energy in the power plants, even if they switch some of them off. What they do to save energy is pump water up from a lower dam to a higher dam. When energy is needed again, the water in the higher dam is released and run through turbines to generate power.
    Now, I know this isn’t always practical or possible, but it could be adapted for solar power stations and the like.

  16. It was done because of nuclear power, Julian. Nukes only become cheap if they run all the time. And if demand drops below “baseload” (eg. after people buy LEDs and replace their incandescents), then they have to sell the power below cost or have grid problems due to overproduction.

    And hydropower was used massively to back up nukes since a single nuke was much bigger than a single other type of power station so if it went out it would do so in minutes and the only source big enough to respond that fast is hydro. It can’t operate for all that long, but it only has to last long enough to bring up slower plants and execute rolling blackouts if there really isn’t enough to go round.

  17. # 17 zebra

    Yes, that was my initial reaction to the Stocks quote too.

    I tend to think that a combination of very large scale CSP and thermal storage with HVDC for long-distance export is going to be a big part of the energy transition.

  18. Yet more meaningless whinge from a retard.

    It’s an ad hominem too. How many times I post has nothing to do with what others post, nor with whether the posts are valid or not.

    All you do it for is to berate me and poison the well because, well, frankly, you don’t think too good and can’t come up with anything that survives outside your cavernously empty skull.

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