Enabling concentrating solar power in Australia : an investigation of the benefits and potential role of concentrating solar power and non-conventional fuel hybrid plants in Australia's transition to a low-carbon energy future

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After decades of stability the Australian electricity market is undergoing changes. Current government targets aim to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 5% and raise renewable electricity production to 45 TWh by 2020. In addition, increases to natural gas prices, aging generation assets and falling electricity demand have had an impact in recent years. Uncertainties exist around current policies, including the carbon pricing mechanism and the renewable energy target, but in light of Australian and international ambitions to lower greenhouse gas emissions the deployment of renewable energy technologies is essential. In recent years wind and photovoltaic installations have shown the highest renewable energy growth rates while concentrating solar power has struggled, despite Australia having some of the best natural resources for concentrating solar power in the world and some selected government funding. Reasons for the slow uptake include the comparatively high cost and lack of financial incentives. While technology costs are expected to decrease by up to 40% by 2020 through deployment as well as research and development, other cost reduction options have to be identified to promote short-term implementation in electricity markets such as Australia where the wholesale cost is low. To overcome the cost problem and to address other relevant implementation barriers this research analyses the hybridisation of concentrating solar power with biomass and waste feedstocks. The results of this research include: ▪ a recommendation for a categorisation system for CSP hybrid plants based on the degree of interconnection of the plant components ▪ the availability of combined resources to generate up to 33.5 TWh per year and abate 27 million tonnes CO₂ annually ▪ an analysis of the most suitable CSP technologies for hybridisation ▪ a technology comparison showing CSP cost reductions through hybridisation of up to 40% ▪ the identification of cost differences of up to 31% between different hybrid concepts ▪ an analysis showing that the current economic and policy settings are the most significant implementation barriers ▪ two case studies with different biomass and waste feedstocks requiring power purchase agreements of AU$ 100-155/MWh. Based on the various benefits of concentrating solar power hybrid plants, this research analyses the potential role of this technological pairing in Australia’s transition to a low carbon energy future. The research concludes that concentrating solar power hybrid plants, not only hybridised with biomass and waste feedstocks, can immediately enable a lower cost deployment of concentrating solar power facilities in Australia. The technology, deployment and operation of the first hybrid installations would provide market participants with valuable lessons and would have the potential to reconfigure the electricity market towards more sustainable generation. This could help promote the development of future low-cost concentrating solar power plants in Australia.
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