World’s largest solar PV plant?

A Melbourne, Australia-based company called Solar Systems has received government funding to proceed with construction of a 154-megawatt solar PV power station in north-west Victoria. The Australian government will contribute $75 million and the government of Victoria will contribute $50 million toward this $420-million (Australian dollar) project, the company said.

The technology will be deployed at a number of locations, and will be based on “Heliostat Concentrator Photovoltaics.” In other words, fields of sun-tracking mirrors will be set up that focus the sun’s rays on ultra high-efficiency solar modules. Solar Systems is working with Boeing’s Spectrolab to optimize the system — typically used in space applications — for use on earth. “The resulting photovoltaic cell arrays are three times more efficient than typical solar panels,” the company said.

The Australian has an excellent article about the announcement. I urge you to give it a read.

What I find interesting is that nearly $1 billion (Canadian) is being spent to build an 880-megawatt combined cycle natural gas “peaking” plant in Ontario. That works out to about $1.15 billion in Australian dollars.

On a per megawatt capacity basis, the natural gas plant is costing $1.31 million versus $2.73 for the solar plant. But if you consider that you don’t need any fuel for the solar plant, and that the solar plant is ideal for typical peaking situations, then over time it does appear cost competitive with natural gas.

This, of course, is just a rough calculation. But it gets you thinking about the potential, particularly in an ideal climate like Australia. This meshes with Vinod Khosla’s belief that big solar power plants is where the biggest opportunities for solar lie.

2 thoughts on “World’s largest solar PV plant?”

  1. While the costs of the large PV installations are encouraging, you also have to look at the other side of the equation when comparing them to the gas turbine generating plant.

    That is – what is the price you can obtain for the power sold by the plant?

    A peaking plant is designed to run when demand – and usually price – are highest. Peaking plants are usually not the cheapest to operate, so they are not used for baseload power.

    But, the peaking plant will generate power quickly that can be sold at a much higher price (or conversely at a lower cost compared to purchasing it on the market).

    An economic comparison of the alternatives has to include comparing both the production costs and the price (or savings) obtained when the electricity is produced.

  2. I’ve run some numbers on this plant. I don’t know what the cost of gas is in Canada, but the levelized cost of electricity is nowhere near NGCC for Australian conditions.

    The company is making all sorts of announcements about bringing the cost of electricity down to $40 /MWh, but I’ll believe it when I see it. Based on the capital costs and assumed operating costs I can’t see them generating for less than $200 /MWh at present.

    Not to say that they won’t be able to bring that cost down via learning-by-doing, but they’ve got a long way to go.

    Meanwhile. solar thermal concentrators are generating close to $100 /MWh right now. Same resource, different technology, lower cost. Weird, huh?

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