Solar and gas - the perfect fit ?

The Business Spectator has an article on combined solar thermal and gas (natural and/or coal seam) fired power stations (the technically unambitious option those who don't want to pay for in-built energy storage go for - however it's still streets ahead of more coal fired power or regular gas), being proposed for Queensland and New South Wales - Solar and gas are the perfect fit.

Brisbane-based ERM Power, Australia’s largest private electricity generator, is making no secret of its desire to be the first in this race. It is interested in building a solar/gas hybrid plant at its planned Wellington power station in New South Wales or at its third Braemar station in central Queensland, preferably both, working with giant global engineering business Siemens as the technology provider.

The concept is simple: use the solar generation when the sun’s available and switch to gas as back-up when it isn’t.

New South Wales director Andy Pittlik says the Wellington project, which ERM Power sees as the next cab off the rank in its building program after constructing four other gas plants in the past 18 months with 1,740 MW capacity, will also use new open-cycle technology that produces more power while burning less fuel.

Managing director Phillip St Baker, son of founder and chairman Trevor, claims the company is on track to build about a third of Australia’s new generating capacity in the next five years after contributing half of new construction in the past five.

He says the biggest drawback to solar thermal power production is the “very, very expensive” cost of storing electricity for the 12 hours a day the sun doesn’t shine. “That’s why we want to integrate the technologies to deliver affordable, reliable power 24 hours a day – and, when you integrate solar and gas, you can make use of common infrastructure such as the boiler and the steam turbine, too.”

St Baker says the company is also looking at building a 900 kilometre gas pipeline to link its now-commissioned Braemar 2 peaking plant on Queensland’s Darling Downs with the proposed Wellington development, near Dubbo. This $500 million link would interconnect coal seam gas resources with conventional gas supply from Victoria.

Cross posted from Peak Energy.

Gav I'll be glad to see any Centralised Solar get underway in Oz, but are we really going to let him get away with the..

“very, very expensive”

... quote about storage?

Our existing coal-fired (cough, cough!) power stations "store" their much-vaunted (but largely unwanted) overnight "baseload" power in a little thing called the Snowy Hydro scheme!

- Yes the Snowy needs adequate water in it to work properly, and no we haven't been managing that well, but the point remains that "overnight storage" of power is a proven methodology and it's time to stop all the eye-rolling that goes on whenever storage is mentioned in relation to renewable energy.

And what about the sexy new hot salt storage?

...Thinks: Maybe a use for all that salt associated with coal-seam methane is just staring us in the face...

Power storage in the Snowy is not as large as you might think. There are only 3 250MW pumps available at T3 for pumping compared to 7600MW of generation in NSW plus Vic probably has another 5000MW. Even if the load reduced to 50% overnight they would still have to find 8,300 MW of load to keep the generators at full capacity, 750MW in the Snowy is not going to have much effect on that load. When it was built in 1975 it was significant but not today.
I think you would find there is more energy stored on off-peak hot water tanks than in the Snowy.

He said it's very expensive, but he didn't say whether it was expensive compared to a gas-fired parallel system. ;)
Solar Thermal starage probably is more expensive than gas-fired capacity, which is why they're not building it, but a big company throwing their weight (and finances) behind Solar Thermal in any form is a great start.

Now, if only we lived in a great big, mostly vacant country, and had space to put many more ST plants. ;)

@ Cretacious.
Just a comment - there is no shortage of salt in the Australian landscape.

Hopefully a philosophical (and therefore probably useless) comment but IF Australia hadn't had so much coal we would have designed a different system, and in all probability the perceived "expense" of alternatives would now be less! No?

@ C3827
Yes we "store" all that electricity in low grade heat in a form that can only be recovered as low grade heat. A system we installed to keep the stations spinning but which now makes it harder to transition. Did we increase the efficiency of the coal system in the past at the expense of system flexibility in the present? Again to me it's interesting that the lack of let's call it "storage" in alternatives is perceived as a negative, but the lack of what might perhaps be called dispatchable storage in coal isn't! We just call it "baseload" ie hot water heaters... which could be replaced, and some industry that operates all night, but which could be powered by other arrangements.