The Australian Renewable Energy Agency has set out its plans for seeking industry information as the first step in exploring how concentrated sunlight could generate reliable, affordable renewable energy with built-in storage for our national grids.

The new call aligns with the federal government’s offer to make up to $110 million available for an equity investment to accelerate and secure delivery of a concentrated solar thermal (CST) project in Port Augusta.

ARENA CEO Ivor Frischknecht said that while CST could provide reliable renewable energy on demand, further investigation and funding was needed for the technology to achieve commercialisation in Australia.

“The benefits of CST will become increasingly important as more renewables enter our grid, particularly in regions like South Australia that already have high levels of wind and solar PV generation,” Frischknecht said.

“Solar thermal plants operate more like traditional fossil fuel power plants than wind turbines or solar PV farms. They can contribute to network stability and reliability through built-in storage and inertia provided by a conventional turbine.”

CST has not yet reached a point where it is cost-competitive with other forms of new-build power generation.

Frischknecht said that ARENA played a key role in supporting the commercialisation of emerging technologies such as CST.

“ARENA works across the innovation chain to building a vital bridge between commercial development and uptake. These fresh efforts will seek to map out and support a pathway for CST to achieve commercial viability in Australia,” he said.

“Our large-scale solar PV competitive round proved that the cost of renewable energy technologies can be reduced significantly with targeted efforts. We’re ready to explore whether the same success is possible for the development of CST in Australia.”

CEFC CEO Ian Learmonth said the CEFC looked forward to working with ARENA on potential CST opportunities.

“Together, ARENA and the CEFC have helped transform large-scale solar in Australia, contributing to a substantial increase in Australia’s renewable energy capacity. CST has the potential to be an important part of Australia’s clean energy transition as this emerging technology reaches commercialisation,” Learmonth said.

ARENA is requesting information from prospective industry participants on the costs and benefits of CST. This information will help ARENA and the CEFC to determine the scope and focus of government assistance for the deployment of CST in Australia.

Interested parties are expected to include (but are not limited to) project proponents, debt and equity investors, original equipment manufacturers, off-takers and government entities.

Responses are due by 5pm on July 31 and can cover all types of CST technology and project sizes, and should not exceed a written submission of 20 pages.