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Solar Systems to Build A$420 million, 154MW Solar Power Plant in Australia

An artist’s concept of the HCPV technology: the field of heliostats and the tower-mounted PV modules.

A A$420 million (US$321 million), 154MW solar power plant—designed to be the biggest and most efficient solar photovoltaic power station yet in the world—is to be built in north-west Victoria, Australia by Australian company Solar Systems. The Victorian power station will meet the annual needs of more than 45,000 homes.

The power station will use high-performance solar cells—originally developed to power satellites—that are three times more efficient than standard solar panels. Solar Systems has also developed the capability to concentrate the sun by 500 times onto those solar cells for ultra-high power output.

The power station will use technology known as Heliostat Concentrator Photovoltaic (HCPV): fields of heliostats (sun-tracking mirrors) focusing sunlight on receivers. The receivers house photovoltaic (PV) modules, which consist of arrays of ultra high-efficiency solar cells that convert the sunlight directly into electricity.

The heliostat control system, PV modules and cooling system designed to keep the solar cells running at 60° C are patented by Solar Systems.

Solar Systems has been collaborating with Spectrolab, a Boeing Company, on the optimization of the Spectrolab multi-junction solar cells for use in Solar Systems’ existing CS500 dish systems. The two agreed in August to go into commercial production with the technology.

This is a new generation of solar technology. The secret is to be able to make a solar power module work about 1,500 times harder than typical solar panels. If you can do this at high efficiency using low-cost materials, you have the recipe for an infinite supply of clean energy at an affordable price. This new power station will demonstrate these principles and produce the most affordable solar energy yet generated.

—John Lasich, Solar System Technical Director

The technical outcomes of the joint work were demonstrated in April when Solar Systems upgraded one of its CS500 dishes at a power station it operates in Hermannsburg (central Australia) from approximately 24kW to 35kW simply by replacing the existing silicon PV modules with the new MJ cell based modules. The process took only 2 hours and the output of the system increased by more than 50%.

The Australian Treasurer Peter Costello announced a A$75 million grant to the project under the Federal Government’s Low Emissions Technology Demonstration Fund (LETDF). Solar Systems was one of more than 30 companies that bid for $500 million under the LETDF program, which aims to foster competitive technology that will significantly reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

The Victorian Premier Steve Bracks announced that the Victorian Government will also support the project with a grant of $50 million.

Solar Systems will build the power station across a number of different sites, and has formed a new company—Solar Systems Generation Pty Ltd—to construct the station.

The Victorian project is the first phase of a plan to deploy more than 1,000 MWs across Australia, China and the United States in a A$2.5-billion project under the Asia-Pacific Partnership on Clean Development and Climate.

(A hat-tip to Rafael Seidl!)



does anyone know how this compares (for cost) to other energie sources, like wind, gas, or coal?


It is still more expensive than gas/coal/wind (it's hard to say how much) but with solar concentrators the investment is much lower than converting solar energy to electricity using traditional solar panels.

Nevertheless that is a good news. We have to do something - oil is not forever!!!

I am also involved in a solar business. I've developed (and now selling) an ultra high accuracy sensory solar tracker controller.....please visit to learn more. Sorry for advertising but we (all residents of Earth) have to do something to help us cure "oil addiction".


Spectrolab makes very good multijunction cells based on techology developed for satalites. Over the life of the cells, they might cost twice what NG would cost per watt today, but who knows where NG prices will be over the next 30 years. There is also no accounting for the external costs of sulfur, NOX or other combustion pollution created using fossil fuels.


about jonny howard got off his lazy bum


That's only $7,000 per home.

I would gladly pay $7K to have my house powered 100% by solar energy.


If nanosolar (the ones with the flexible reel-to-reel printed solar sheets) deliver on their promises, then they could produce cells for $1 per watt (competitive with wind/coal/NG etc).

Richard F

Great news. We always know how expensive solar is, making it so prohibitive that most people don't go that route. If the government would just divert all research and development costs towards solar panels on everybody's home, we would have so much of this Co2 problem under control. Instead we waste countles monies on new fuels and still rely on fossil fuels to run most things. At $7,000 I would jump on the chance to install one on my roof.


Nanosolar may be able to make panels for $1 per watt, but I doubt they will sell them at much lower prices. Unisolar has a roll technique for panels that is lower cost, but why sell for less when they do not have to. They make higher profits to build their next plant.


That's ~$7000 per home, probably without maintenance or repairs. Then there's profit and the time value of money. I don't know how this stacks up in comparison to the Sterling engines now in use. But still, it will be a great thing to behold, and an excellent green test.

Harvey D.

At $2.08/Watt, sun power cost is approaching wind power cost but is still about twice that of natural gas power plants and coal power plants.

With average production at less than 8 hours per days (but corresponding to peak power consumption hours) sun power plants have to be coupled with other power sources, like hydro or natural gas, that can be easily turned on-off, for the other 16 hours, and during cloudy and rainy days.

The initial investment for the double production units required is a lot more than for single natural gas or coal units.

The retail price would have to be at least $.20/KWh to break even.


Can anyone comment on whether these or any other PV recoups its energy cost of manufacture over its lifetime?


This scheme was funded instead of the enviromission solar tower which would have had much larger capacity at a lower capital cost, partially based on Australian intellectual property. It would be interesting to know the basis of this decision.

Rafael Seidl

tthoms -

I suspect the answer is yes, given a sufficently long time scale. The PV panels themselves only represent ~20% of the total investment; they are the most heavily stressed components of the whole system and therefore more likely to fail. If and when they do, they can be replaced with the newest then available technology. The heliostats mirrors themselves suffer virtually no wear and tear, though their positioning mechanisms will need maintenance.

Note that in its present form, the project will not use the PV panels' coolant cycle to drive a secondary steam turbine. Instead, the company argues that the collected heat should be used to desalinate ground water. This would raise the value of surrounding farm properties (note: the biggest ranch in Australia is the size of Belgium). Commercial exploitation of the available heat energy would be the responsibility of a third party yet to be named.

Rafael Seidl

Marcus -

the Solar Tower project

called for a very large contiguous area of land to be completely covered and paired with a cylindrical chimney 1000m tall - a construction feat never before attempted and likely to become an eyesore once the novelty wears off.

Some architects have proposed skyscrapers featuring interlocking helical support frames to couple bending and torsional response, effectively stiffening the structure. Very tall trees such as Ponderosa pines grow that way too, for the same reason. It's not clear if the tower design incorporated this notion in its internal structure.

In the video, the external skin appears smooth relative to its length and diameter, a definite no-no due to the risk of van Karman vortex shedding at moderate windspeeds. These can set up resonant vibrations and lead to the collapse of the structure (cp. Tacoma bridge collapse, 1940).

Using the tower's enormous height as a tourist attraction would have required a very large active counterweight system (travelling tangentially) to prevent seasickness.

In other words, the risk of cost overruns would have been high. However, the concept offers no obvious way of scaling back in response, so the contractors would have had the customer by the proverbial short and curlies.

Because its design relies on natural convection, any dust, tumbleweed or other airborne contaminant would fouled the turbines of the SolarTower. before raining back down on either the covered area (fouling that as well) or, producing an air quality problem downwind. Does that count as emission-free?

Finally, this was apparently a purely thermal concept, with no mechanism for harvesting the light energy.

EnviroMission argues that its 200MW design would power 200,000 homes. Confusingly, a separate 50MW design described in the Trading Halt Clarification published today is supposed to power 100,000 homes. SolarSystems' numbers are more conservative at 154MW for 45,000 homes. The fact that these claims are so widely disparate suggest either great uncertainty or a poorly worded RFP.


The ultimate potential of this kind of installation is much larger than thin film that relies on relatively rare elements (Indium). Desalination is a brillian use of the extra heat since the best sites for these projects is in desserts that are short of water anyway.


If you Google "Indium+solar" you will probably find that there is enough Indium on the planet to only provide a single digit percentage of the world's energy needs.


the 200MW design was their old design. They have since re-engineerd it to be smaller and more efficient, with a 50MW output (see below). I agree it would be more risky but it also has an important advantage of not being intermittent since it relies on the thermal gradient between the ground and sky with the heat of the day being stored somewhat and gradually released at night. Thus it withstands the usual arguement against renewable energy supplying base power.

As for Eyesores, I don't think it would have been anyworse than wind turbines.

Have a look at this pdf


ps, the light energy is converted to heat via dark colored material under the glass I beleive.

Rafael Seidl

Btw, there are also exotic materials like GaSb that can directly convert infrared radiation (e.g. from a solar concentrator) into electricity. These TPVs operate at very high temperatures of ~1000 degC. Conversion efficiencies >20% are claimed.

As I understand it, the triple-junction PV panels in the SolarSystems design are made from a different material and do not convert infrared radiation directly.


I like PV, I have some on my roof at home. I like the idea of Spectrolab's high-efficiency solar cells. All that being said...

Since this Australian power plant will be a free-standing facility, why not use a Stirling-cycle engine to collect the power, instead of PV?


Moving parts need maintenance, semiconductors need little.


On the issue of enough Indium....

There is definitely enough indium to prove that solar can be cheap. Certainly cheaper than buying your own power.

That'll turn some heads & make people realize solar is for real & can generate serious energy in a minimum amount of space.

Hopefully people will then realize that more money must be invested into solar R&D... in the quest for a mostly carbon, highly efficient, ultra cheap, mass manufacture-able design.


The last numbers I saw indicated that between Galium and Indium you could manufacture a couple of Terawatts worth of thin film panels. Certainly enough to make some people some money for more research. These would be most usefull in off-grid applications. Barring new technological developments (something I never bet against) I think the future of Solar is projects like this one, the solar tower and stirling engines.


Would love to know how much land this project is taking...


If you can get 1 megawatt per acre you are doing pretty well. So, they might be using
about 150 acres, would be my guess.

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