If it works at 1MW, maybe it can manage 500MW? That’s the motivation of developers of a concentrating solar thermal power plant who are looking to raise $75 million to help finance a utility-scale power plant. 

Vast Solar’s 1MW pilot project at Jemalong, NSW, is the first modular concentrating solar power (CSP) facility using sodium in the world, the company says, and its modular design and superior thermal control overcome many of the challenges faced by other CSP technologies.

CSP technology uses heliostats – mirrors that track the sun in two directions – to concentrate solar radiation onto a receiving tower. Unlike traditional CSP, Vast Solar uses sodium as the heat transfer fluid to capture the concentrated solar energy, which can then be stored and used on-demand to drive a conventional turbine and generate electricity.  

The Australian Renewable Energy Agency-backed project is the missing link in the renewables transition, according to Vast Solar CEO Craig Wood.

“The success of our pilot plant has proven our technology can deliver dispatchable renewable energy to the grid and we are confident that, at scale, our technology will produce power at a lower cost than coal, gas or other renewable storage technologies,” Wood says.

Energy Estate principal Simon Currie has been has been involved in the solar thermal sector for more than 15 years and says the technology will play a key role in the transformation of the energy sector – where the conditions are right.  

“The industry has grappled with many risks such as single point of failure and the challenges of scale-up,” says Currie, pointing to Vast Solar’s modular solution. “You may have failure of one receiver but you don’t then lose the entire output. Commissioning a Vast Solar project is very different to commissioning a single integrated field and receiver spread out over kilometres.”

The International Renewable Energy Agency estimates 633GW of CSP will be installed by 2050, with China investing heavily and South Africa using CSP to firm its grid following issues with coal plants.

Working with ANU and UNSW, the Vast Solar technology relies on sodium, which is far more abundant and accessible than lithium.

Plants can be configured with 4-16 hours of storage and generators of up to 500MW, the company says.

Vast Solar is working with investment bank Moelis Australia to raise $75 million to develop its business and finance its upcoming 50MW hybrid project, comprising a 30MW CSP plant with 10 hours storage and a 20MW PV plant.

“Thanks to the assistance of our existing supporters, including ARENA, we’ve proven this transformative technology,” Wood says. “We now want investors who can help us commercialise the technology, take it global and play a key role in solving the world’s energy trilemma.”