In January 2010 Silex Systems, an Australian company, acquired the Melbourne based Solar Systems and their flagship project, a 154MW photovoltaic solar power plant to be built at Carwarp, near Mildura. At the time of its announcement in October 2006 the plant was set to be the world’s biggest with the capacity to meet the annual energy needs of over 45,000 homes with zero greenhouse gas emissions.
Unlike a traditional solar panel that is fixed in place to face the sun, the Solar Systems technology is quite different. It uses a dish made up of mirrors to concentrate the power of the sun up to 500 times onto a high performance solar receiver suspended above it. The dishes are designed to track the sun’s movement throughout the day, maximising the amount of concentrated sunlight energy delivered to the PV receiver. These receivers use solar cells that were originally designed to power satellites, and are approximately 3 times more efficient than conventional cells. In order to operate under such a high sunlight concentration the receiver’s temperature is controlled by a cooling system. A control system keeps each dish pointing towards the sun, monitors performance and incorporates several trouble-proofing systems to protect the dish from damage.
This Australian technology has been in development since 2001 with the construction of the Fosterville facility, located near Bendigo. This facility was used to test prototype versions of the dish, which were deployed in the remote communities of Umuwa, Hermansberg, Yuendumu, Lajamanu and Windorah. The technology is being further refined at a Bridgewater based test facility, and is going to be rolled out in a 2MW pilot plant at the company’s Carwarp site in 2011.
To initiate the project a Federal Government grant of $75 million was secured under the Low Emissions Technology Demonstration Fund (LETDF), while the Victorian Government will also support the project with a grant of $50 million. The remaining $295 million in project investment will come from the private sector.
During and after its deployment the project is expected to result in creation of many jobs in north-west Victoria, and positive impacts will also filter down to metropolitan Melbourne, with the development of the original Solar Systems manufacturing facility in Abbotsford, keeping the production process almost entirely localised. The plant in itself promises to bolster the local economy further by proving itself to be a regional attraction and talking point across the state.
Further information from the company is available here.
Further information from the Save Solar Systems campaign can be found here.