Concentrated solar thermal (CST) technology harnesses the sun's power to generate electricity. It uses lenses and reflectors to concentrate sunlight, heating a fluid such as water or oil and producing steam to drive a turbine.
The advantage of CST technologies is that they provide a dispatchable energy supply – that is, their power output can be adjusted based on grid demand. This makes them more flexible than traditional solar PV plants.
Globally, CST technology is being deployed on a large scale to provide electricity, and storage systems are also being investigated.
Abundant sunshine and plenty of open space means Australia is ideally placed to take advantage of CST technologies for energy generation.
There are several types of concentrated solar thermal plants:
CST energy generation in Australia is still in its early stages of development. This is primarily due to the relatively high cost of the technology compared to more established forms of renewable energy.
Australia currently has one large-scale solar thermal plant – a 9.3 MW facility that has been added to the Liddell coal-fired power plant in NSW. Covering some 18,490 square meters, the linear Fresnel array is used to pre-heat feedwater for the coal-fired power station.
While CST is not seen as a viable storage option in the short term, it could play an important role in the future as the cost of the technology falls and the penetration of renewables increases.
Similar to rooftop solar, large-scale solar uses solar panels to convert sunlight into electricity but on a much larger scale.