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A demonstration of how medium-scale solar on industrial rooftops can be effectively integrated into the distribution network

The Energy Innovators: Wes Stein on the future of concentrated solar thermal

“Electricity never used to be this difficult and it was never this much fun, either.”

The CSIRO’s chief solar scientist Wes Stein, in his address to energy leaders at an ARENA summit in Canberra, hit the nail on the head.

With more diversity of supply than ever before in the electricity market, ensuring the system works reliably and equitably is a complex task. But it’s also brimming with innovation and new ideas and Stein says Concentrated Thermal Solar technology is a source of untapped potential here in Australia.

In his address to ARENA’s Innovating Energy Summit, Stein outlined the steps needed for Australia to capitalise on what CST (or CSP, concentrated solar power) can deliver. It’s one in a series of lightning talks we’re presenting by leading thinkers in renewable energy – scroll down further for his Q&A session with ARENA’s Phil Cohn.

“One of the attractions of CSP is that you can integrate nicely with other thermal power sources, not just through the grid but actually on site,” he said. “We could over time see the level of gas dropping and the level of thermal energy storage integrated with a solar thermal plant increasing.”

CST can be generated in a number of ways but a popular approach uses a field of heliostat mirrors to follow and reflect the sun’s heat on to a solar receiver. Sodium or molten salt is pumped up to the receiver and returned to a hot tank where it is stored until needed.


READ MORE: Three remarkable ways solar thermochemistry could reshape Australian industry

It has been used for decades overseas but few Australian projects exist. ARENA has invested $35 million in the establishment of the Australian Solar Thermal Initiative (ASTRI) to enable Australian universities to collaborate with US institutes and companies on “over the horizon” initiatives, and last year ran a request for information on the technology.

Stein said investing in research and development was “critical” for the Australian industry and while the greatest costs would come early, he predicted the price of rolling out CST plants would decrease quickly.

“Certainly the first projects that we build will be expensive that’s for sure, but very quickly the electricians, the concreters, the boiler makers will sharpen their pencils and say “I’ve built one of those before; now my cost will be 20 percent lower.”

He said there were currently 2 million square metres of solar collectors operating commercially worldwide, with Spain alone building 2.4 gigawatts-worth in a couple of years. Morocco, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates have all invested in CST but it is in China’s plan to double the world’s CST installations by 2020 that Stein sees the most potential for the CSIRO and Australian industry.

“There is a dying need for projects to be built here locally but right now I’m getting most interest from overseas and particularly from China,” he said. “They want to double the world’s production capacity in the next four years, they haven’t got the time to develop heliostats and the technology themselves so they’re buying it from elsewhere so that could potentially be quite lucrative for CSIRO.”


Paving the way for concentrated solar thermal in Australia

The Australian Renewable Energy Agency (ARENA) today released a report outlining how concentrated solar thermal (CST) technology could be a commercially viable form of dispatchable renewable energy within a decade.

Last year, ARENA called for industry participants worldwide to respond to a Request for Information (RFI) exploring the potential for solar thermal to be rolled out in Australia. A total of 31 responses were received from both Australian and international companies.

These responses will now inform ARENA in preparing a strategy to support CST in Australia, including considering future funding opportunities for CST.

ARENA is also funding a roadmap for CST to examine requirements for accelerating commercial deployment in Australia. The roadmap is underway and will be completed in mid 2018, with the results also used to inform ARENA’s CST strategy.

CST systems use mirrors to concentrate and convert sunlight to heat at high temperatures. The heat is then stored and used to produce steam, which is then run through a turbine to generate electricity.  Most CST plants are large scale and incorporate between 3-15 hours of thermal energy storage.

Large scale CST technology is yet to be introduced in Australia, but there are approximately 100 utility scale CST plants operating worldwide, mostly in the United States and Spain totalling around 5GW. The total CST capacity is expected to double to 10 GW over the next five years, driven by new plants in China, South America and Africa.

The report released today, which was prepared by ITP Thermal, found strong confidence in the future of CST, with a number of global industry leaders interested in being involved in the deployment of CST in Australia.

All responses highlighted that CST could help to address Australia’s energy storage and dispatchability needs by providing reliable, responsive and flexible electricity generation at any time of day or night.  Respondents noted that CST plants operate in a way similar to that for existing thermal power stations, allowing them to be easily incorporated within the electricity network. Respondents also noted the cost of CST is expected to fall in the coming years.

ARENA CEO Ivor Frischknecht said the RFI was an important stepping stone towards bringing commercial scale CST to Australia.

“While still not cost-competitive with other forms of new-build power generation, the ability to store energy and be able to dispatch renewable energy at any time will be of increasing value, and this information shows there is strong support for CST,” he said.

“We are now considering funding opportunities to assist in creating a pathway for CST to become commercially viable in Australia in the coming years,” Mr Frischknecht said.

In the meantime, Mr Frischknecht said ARENA welcomes applications for a well developed CST project under ARENA’s Advancing Renewables Program which provides funding for renewable energy projects year-round.

“While we are busy working out our roadmap for the industry, our door is always open to high quality, innovative renewable energy demonstration projects that can help bridge the gap to commerciality for new technologies.

“If any company has a prospective project with well developed financing, an offtake agreement and technical details mapped out, they don’t need to wait and we would encourage them to apply,” he said.

ARENA is also currently working with the Clean Energy Finance Corporation (CEFC), in consultation with the Infrastructure and Project Financing Agency (IPFA), to provide the Commonwealth Government with advice on Solar Reserve’s 150MW Aurora CST project proposed for Port Augusta, including its suitability for a federal loan of $110 million.

ARENA media contact:

0410 724 227 |

Download this media release (PDF 117KB)

First cab off the rank: First of 12 large scale solar farms completed in Emu Downs, Western Australia

In a landmark achievement, the Australian Renewable Energy Agency (ARENA) today announced Emu Downs is the first of its 12 large scale solar farms funded under its $92 million round to be completed.

Under the round, ARENA provided $92 million in funding to 12 large scale solar farms which are currently under construction or nearing completion in Queensland, NSW and WA. Once built, these dozen solar farms will have a total capacity of 492.5MW. ARENA provided APA Group with $5.5 million to build the 20MW solar farm on the site of its wind farm, 200km north of Perth.

ARENA CEO Ivor Frischknecht said the the completion of the Emu Downs Solar Farm was a significant milestone for renewables in Australia.

“Before ARENA’s strong investment, large scale solar remained in its infancy in Australia. The competitive round was critical in supporting the technology to becoming competitive and helping to close the gap that exists between large-scale solar PV and other commercially competitive forms of power generation, including wind energy.

“APA’s Emu Downs Solar Farm marks the beginning of a quick succession of our large scale solar farms reaching completion this year, injecting $1.1 billion into solar PV,” Mr Frischknecht said.

“Beyond just funding a dozen new solar farms, this round acted as a catalyst to kickstart the large scale solar industry in Australia, dramatically reducing the price of solar energy.

“Thanks to our efforts and those of our partners, there are solar farms being built without government funding. Six years ago, there were just 10MW of solar in Australia, whereas this year there will be over 1800 MW, with over 10 GW in the pipeline, which is a huge step forward in a short space of time,” he said.

The ambitious $50 million project has around 75,000 solar panels, utilising the existing transmission connection infrastructure from the adjacent wind farm.

APA has entered into a power purchase agreement to sell electricity and renewable certificates generated by the solar farm to energy provider Synergy, to 2030.

APA Managing Director and CEO Mick McCormack said: “APA is grateful for ARENA’s support over a number of years to get this exciting project, APA’s first solar farm, constructed and delivering an enhanced energy solution from our combined wind and solar farm.”

Along with Emu Downs and the Badgingarra Wind Farm under construction across the road, APA is building a 230MW renewables precinct with the potential to power 176,000 Western Australian homes with both wind and solar.

ARENA media contact:

0410 724 227 |

Download this media release (PDF 125KB)

Disrupting the energy retail business model

The world’s first crowdfunded energy retailer for solar households is set to launch in Australia in 2018.

DC Power Co. is offering 95,000 investors the opportunity to each contribute $50 to become shareholders in the fledgling startup, and, in doing so, raise $4.75 million for the scheme. Shareholders with access to rooftop solar will then be invited to sign on as DC Power Co.’s first customers later in the year.

The startup hopes to give consumers who have installed rooftop solar panels a better deal on their electricity bills.


DC Power Co. co-founder Nic Frances Gilley, a social entrepreneur known for his work in the renewable energy sector, says the startup hopes to give consumers who have installed rooftop solar panels a better deal on their electricity bills.

“Until now, solar users have had to make do with whatever their energy company has offered them, with very little transparency about how much they are saving or could be saving, because their business model relies on customers consuming more energy,” Mr Frances Gilley says.

DC Power Co.’s business model is designed to work in the customer’s favour. “Because we don’t have to sell them energy to make money, we can help them reduce their energy costs and use their system better,” he says. “We are about people making the most from their solar panels.”

DC Power Co. will offer its customers a free solar performance check, advice on how to use their solar energy more efficiently to save money, and access to an energy plan that will help slash power bills.

The scheme also involves checks to ensure rooftop solar panels are working correctly. According to DC Power Co. research, 57 percent of solar users don’t know the functioning status of their system.

“Based on our research, we believe a significant number of people, tens of thousands of households, don’t even realise that their system isn’t turned on or working, which means they could be losing out on about $1000 every year.


57% of solar users don’t know the functioning status of their system


DC Power Co. is one of the first businesses to make use of new equity crowdfunding rules introduced in 2017, that permit public companies with less than $25 million in assets to raise up to $5 million in funds from the general public in return for equity in the enterprise.

“The company founders have all worked in the energy sector in various roles and successfully founded companies and campaigns of this kind previously. We see renewable energy as the way of the future, both as a business model and as an environmentally-responsive solution to current outdated energy business models,” Mr Frances Gilley says.

“Inviting customers to be part-owners of their energy company is a unique proposition. Not only do you get a personalised solar service, potentially saving you hundreds of dollars each year on energy costs, you also get a share of the profits, which we think will be considerable given our potential for rapid growth.

Mr Frances Gilley is optimistic about the future of solar in Australia and DC Power Co.’s potential for growth.


Improving the reliability of electricity provided to regional communities

It is often assumed that renewable energy makes electricity more unreliable. After all, the sun doesn’t always shine and the wind doesn’t always blow.

But while that’s a simplification that is open to challenge in the future (given the growth of battery and other forms of storage) it’s one that definitely rings false when applied to regional and remote communities located on the edges of the grid.

For those communities, and there are plenty of them, renewables represent their best chance to make electricity supply more reliable.

Electricity users in remote grid-connected communities have long been plagued with power blackouts and low-voltage problems. That’s because the electricity sent out by power stations has a long distance to travel before reaching those communities.

Just like water moving through a long sprinkler system, the furthest sprinklers tend to miss out due to water pressure being lost along the way. Blackouts and voltage issues are the electricity version of that dribbling sprinkler head.

Large-scale solar farms built near remote communities on the edges of the grid can improve the reliability of electricity provided to those communities by topping up supply during periods of peak demand. The additional energy can also help to fix any low-voltage problems being experienced on that part of the grid.

That’s what’s happening with the grid-connected Barcaldine Remote Community Solar Farm, a new ARENA-supported project located near the historic outback town of Barcaldine in central Queensland.

Like many of the towns scattered throughout Australia’s outback, Barcaldine has a long and colourful history that makes it a popular tourist attraction as well as a bustling hub for the region’s sheep and cattle industries.

Tourists with an interest in history or politics are drawn to the 130-year old town to visit the focal point of the 1891 shearers’ strike and the striking sculpture that protects the preserved remains of the Tree of Knowledge. Other visitors come to sample the region’s famed artesian waters, learn about the local Indigenous culture, marvel at the majestic natural landscapes, or participate in Barcaldine’s various festivals.

Whatever the reason for the regular influx of visitors to the relatively small country town, Barcaldine needs reliable electricity to meet the needs of its surging visitor population as well as its own businesses and households.

The nearby Barcaldine Remote Community Solar Farm, now owned by Foresight, is making that possible using 78,000 solar panels that stretch across an area bigger than 30 MCG playing fields. The 20 megawatt solar facility is the first of its kind in Queensland and also the biggest solar power plant in the state.

By feeding solar power into the grid at a point close to the town, the facility is helping to improve the reliability of electricity being supplied to Barcaldine.This also avoids the need to construct costly new grid infrastructure, even when electricity demand grows with the expected expansion of the resources sector in the nearly Galilee Basin.

Another ARENA-supported project in a legendary Australian outback town is taking a step further in delivering reliable electricity to fringe-of-grid communities by exploring an innovative form of protection from blackouts known as “islanding”.

The project will power the remote grid-connected town of Lakeland, which is modest in size but known as the ‘Gateway to the Cape’ for providing essential services to tourists embarking on the trek to explore the world-renowned Indigenous culture and natural beauty of Australia’s Cape York Peninsula in far north Queensland.

Lakeland is almost as old as Barcaldine, established in late 1800s to service the Palmer River gold rush. A hundred years later the region’s cattle stations were joined by a horticulture sector that has since thrived on the area’s rich volcanic soils. As a result, Lakeland has an unlikely pairing as its main industries: cattle and bananas.

Just like it’s sister-town Barcaldine, Lakeland needs reliable electricity to look after its own community as well as the many tourists who pass through. Conergy’s Lakeland Solar & Storage Project will do so by using an innovative combination of solar panels and big batteries.

The project combines a 10.8 megawatt solar farm featuring more than 40,000 solar panels with a smart controller and a 1.4 megawatt battery system that can store up to 5.3 megawatt hours of electricity. This combination makes it possible to supply the town of Lakeland, located more than 1200km from the power station that supplies it, with clean energy at any time including overnight and at peak demand periods.

The project also aims to be the first in the world to explore the economic viability of using a big battery system paired with big solar to keep a grid-connected community fully powered when there is a grid power failure. During the project’s “islanding” tests, Lakeland will be transformed into a self-sufficient energy island by completely separating the township from the grid and powering it solely by solar and battery storage for several hours.

By proving this innovative approach is technically and economically viable, the Lakeland Solar & Storage Project will pave the way for more combined solar and storage facilities could be built alongside other remote grid-connected communities to provide reliable power to households as well as businesses. This service would be particularly valued by business operations that rely on a guaranteed source of power.

“Connecting a utility-scale solar and battery storage system to the grid has been a learning curve for all parties involved in the connection process and in many ways has set a new benchmark for future projects,” said Christopher West, the Managing Director of Conergy.

“The benefits of building projects like this in remote communities mean quality power supply in areas of need, a substantial financial injection into the local economy, employment opportunities during construction as well as long-term contractor positions to maintain the development for an expected 25yrs+.”

It’s a relatively new concept to use renewables to stabilise and strengthen an electricity grid, so ARENA is supporting these projects to demonstrate that reliability benefits can be delivered with renewables and that the cost of doing so will reduce over time.

“ARENA’s support was invaluable and made the project, at the time, a viable proposition,” Mr West explained. “The solar combined with battery storage and a smart controller was a new technology combination to Australia and the APAC region and has huge potential across many regions in Australia.

“Now that the renewable market is steadily growing more confidence due to important projects like this and investor support, prices for solar and storage are coming down significantly as demand for this collocated technology increases.”

Once the energy sector and the investment community have confidence in such projects, there will be no further need for ARENA to support them.


First co-located solar and battery connected to grid in FNQ

The first big solar and big battery storage to be connected to the grid has started providing power to Far North Queensland homes and businesses.

On behalf of the Australian Government, the Australian Renewable Energy Agency (ARENA) provided $17.4 million in funding for the Lakeland Solar and Storage project on the Cape York Peninsula, near Cooktown, 240 kilometres north-west of Cairns.

The $42.5 million grid-connected facility includes a 10.8 MW AC solar farm featuring over 40,000 solar panels alongside a 1.4 MW / 5.3MWh lithium-ion battery, which together are capable of supplying more than 3000 homes and businesses.

ARENA CEO Ivor Frischknecht said Lakeland is Australia’s first utility scale colocated solar and battery project to be connected to the grid.
“The ambitious project by Conergy has helped to show the importance of combining storage technologies with large scale solar.

“Lakeland is a demonstration for how integrated solar and batteries can together deliver dispatchable supply feeding electricity into the grid when it is needed, whether or not the sun is available at that moment,” Mr Frischknecht said.

“It will also be a test case for deliberate ‘islanding’, where a section of the grid continues to provide power while disconnected from the main grid.  This capability will increase the reliability of local supply and pave the way for other fringe of the grid locations,” he said.

“Solar farms combined with storage are going to play a hugely important role in Australia’s electricity grid in the future,” he said.

Conergy Managing Director Christopher West said the company was excited to be delivering reliable, renewable power to FNQ.

“It’s great news for the people of Queensland, and it’s a milestone for Conergy as we bring this facility on line – the first solar and storage project of its scale connected to the grid in Australia,” Mr West said.

“The region is abundant in solar resource, so it’s an ideal place to deliver solar projects like Lakeland.”

ARENA media contact:

0410 724 227 |

Download this media release (PDF 115KB)

Increasing Visibility of Distribution Networks to Maximise PV Penetration Levels

Australia’s first hybrid wind and solar farm

In the southern tablelands of NSW lies 28 hectares of energy generation – a 10MW solar farm surrounded by a 73 turbine wind farm. These co-located renewable energy farms produce continuous energy generation. They complement each other with the wind farm generating more during winter and the solar farm generating more in the summer.

The Gullen solar farm has over 42,000 solar panels working hard and will produce approximately 22,000 megawatt-hours of clean renewable energy each year. This is enough energy to supply approximately 3,100 NSW homes.

ARENA CEO Ivor Frischknecht said this was an important milestone for co-located renewable energy services in Australia.

“The success of the Gullen Solar Farm has laid the groundwork for more solar plants to be built alongside wind farms in other areas of Australia and is also helping large-scale solar costs fall more quickly,”

“Wind farm owners across Australia can look to Gullen and see the benefits of adding solar plants such as reducing the environmental impact, increasing their renewable energy output,  and saving money on grid connection, approvals and site development costs by co-locating renewables.” Mr Frischknecht said.

The Gullen solar farm was turned on and producing electricity last year, but was only officially opened this week.


If you are struggling to imagine what 73 wind turbines and 42,000 solar panels look like, why not come and see for yourself? You can get up close and personal to a wind turbine and a solar array. To book yourself on a renewable energy adventure fill out the booking form here.


Classrooms powered by renewable energy to be trialled in NSW schools

School children across Australia could soon be taught in classrooms powered entirely by renewable energy as a result of the innovative ‘Hivve’ modular classroom, now being trialled in two New South Wales schools.

On behalf of the Australian Government, the Australian Renewable Energy Agency (ARENA) is providing Hivve Technology Pty Ltd with $368,115 in funding to pilot their modular classrooms in a school environment.

Known as the ‘Hivve’, the portable classroom incorporates solar PV generation, real time energy metering, CO2 metering, data capture and communications to actively manage energy demands and control indoor environment quality.

Each Hivve classroom has the potential to generate enough electricity to power itself and two other classrooms in the school.

A regular classroom can consume on average 3,800 KWh per year, but when a HIVVE classroom is in use, there is an estimated net energy generation of 7,600 KWh per year.

Ready for the start of 2018 school year this week, the two pilot classrooms are being trialled at St Christopher’s Catholic Primary School in Holsworthy in Sydney’s south western suburbs and at Dapto High School in Dapto where the performance of the Hivve classrooms will be monitored and evaluated over a 12 month period.

A prototype building built by Hivve Technology Pty Ltd has successfully demonstrated the functionality in a controlled environment and this will be the first time the Hivve classroom and technology has been trialled in a real school.

ARENA CEO Ivor Frischknecht said there was enormous potential for Australia’s public schools to not only educate on renewables, but also reduce their reliance on the grid.

“This is a great way to get the next generation involved in renewables at an early age and educate them as to what the positive benefits will be as Australia continues its shift towards a renewable energy future,”

“The success of the Hivve project could lead to a nation-wide adoption of the modular classrooms, reducing reliance on the grid and even providing a significant amount of electricity back to the NEM.” Mr Frischknecht said.

Hivve Director David Wrench said the Hivve Technology was conceived and designed to deliver sustainable solutions – both environmental and economic – to help meet Australia’s growing school infrastructure needs.

“We are very pleased to be partnering with ARENA on this exciting project. We have carefully designed every element of the Hivve classroom to create the best possible learning environment for students”, Mr Wrench said.

ARENA media contact:

0410 724 227 |

Download this media release (PDF 131KB)