US-based utility-scale solar power specialist SolarReserve has received development approval for its Aurora Solar Energy Project in South Australia.

The project is located on farmland 30km north of Port Augusta and is centred on a 150MW solar thermal power station with 1100MWh of molten salt energy storage. Once built, the power station is expected to have an annual output in excess of 500GWh, which is around 5% of South Australia’s energy needs.

“It’s fantastic that SolarReserve has received development approval to move forward with this world-leading project that will deliver clean, dispatchable renewable energy to supply our electrified rail, hospitals, schools and other major government buildings,” said South Australia’s Acting Energy Minister Chris Picton. “This approval triggers an investment of about $650 million, will create a total of about 700 construction and ongoing jobs in Port Augusta and will add new competition to the South Australian market, putting downward pressure on power prices.”

The solar thermal technology is deceptively simple: an array of heliostats follows the sun throughout the day, precisely reflecting and concentrating sunlight onto a large receiver. Molten salt is circulated through a heat exchanger in the receiver during the day, and held in storage tanks at night. The molten salt can then be used to generate superheated steam to drive standard thermal generators as and when required.

Aurora’s 1100MWh of storage will provide 8 hours of full load power after dark – reckoned to be equivalent to around 35% of all of the households in South Australia.

The project is also expected to create a new centre of excellence in solar research and development. By the end of 2017, SolarReserve will open an office in Adelaide which will serve as its permanent Australian headquarters, and the company aims to set up research partnerships with South Australian universities to advance solar thermal research and education in South Australia.

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