Jemalong solar project wins international award for solar breakthrough

Engineering student Buddhi Ranasinghe, project director Kurt Drewes, product development engineer Bruce Leslie, CEO Craig Wood, senior project engineer Nicholas Bartos, head of systems engineering Mark Pagura and project engineer Nicole Blinco.

Breakthrough solar technology developed on a property near Forbes has earned an international industry honour.

Concentrated solar thermal power (CSP) company Vast Solar was awarded the Technology Innovation Award at the International Energy Agency’s SolarPACES 2019 conference in Korea.

The award recognises the company’s breakthroughs in some of the key areas that have held CSP technology and its commercial application back.

And it has all been put to the test at their CSP Pilot Plant, connected to the electricity grid since 2018, at Jemalong.

Vast Solar’s CSP technology is new generation modular CSP that uses sodium as the heat transfer fluid.

CSP is a very important new form of solar power because it includes inherent large scale, affordable thermal storage and hence has the ability to store and dispatch power at any time of day or night when the sun isn’t shining or the wind not blowing.

Unlike the photovoltaic panels or wind that are feeding increasing amounts of power to our grids, and need batteries to be “dispatchable” 24 hours a day, CSP doesn’t require large expensive electric batteries to make power available at any time of day.

The Vast Solar CSP system is designed as a series of modules, each a set of mirrors directing the sun’s heat onto thermal receivers, and uses liquid sodium as a heat transfer fluid.

Data from the local pilot plant shows significant breakthrough in key areas required to unlock cost savings and to deliver higher performance plants.

“This award is further proof that our technology has the potential to transform energy production in sunny places around the world,” CEO Craig Wood said.

“We are now totally focussed on developing our reference plant which will prove the technology at commercial scale.

“From there, we anticipate our technology playing a critical role in energy production in suitable climates around the world, generating clean, reliable energy at low cost.”

Project director Kurt Drewes wished to acknowledge and say ‘thank you’ to the greater Forbes community, especially key suppliers and groups who have helped along the journey.

They include: Darren Cowan; Ian Bartholomaeus from Midpro Engineering; the NSW Fire and Rescue Forbes brigade and Rural Fire Services; Vast Solar’s neighbours in the Jemalong area; the Forbes Shire Council; and JREC.

Seven members of the Vast Solar team travelled to South Korea for the Solarpaces conference, addressing the international audience about the gains they have made.

CEO Craig Wood, who is on the SolarPACES industry committee, explained the unique modular system and Senior Project Engineer Nicholas Bartos presented a peer-reviewed paper on the tower solar receiver designed for use with liquid sodium.

Project engineer Nicole Blinco, who joined Vast Solar as a student intern and is today one of their project engineers, and engineering student Buddhi Ranasinghe both presented technical posters and talks on the research.

The next step for Vast Solar is to build a 30MW reference plant that, as a first commercial plant, will be located where there is maximum sun and minimal clouds.

At this stage this looks likely to be at a fairly remote location in Queensland and/or South Australia.

The pilot plant at Jemalong will continue to operate and play a key role to help continuously improve and finesse the technology and to showcase it to international and national stakeholders.