The future of sustainable energy in Australia lies in finding cost-effective solutions to generate and store electricity overnight. The need for reliable energy sources in rural areas and the impending retirement of coal-fired power stations create an urgent demand for alternatives. While wind farms and lithium-ion batteries have their limitations, solar thermal heat storage is emerging as a viable option that could transform the energy landscape.
Solar thermal heat storage works by harnessing heat from the sun and storing it in materials like salt, oil, water, or graphite. Once the sun goes down, this stored heat is used to generate steam, which in turn drives turbines to produce electricity. The concept might seem simple, but its widespread deployment has been hindered by the dominance of coal-fired power stations, which have provided affordable overnight power until now.
Dominic Zaal, Director of the CSIRO’s Australian Solar Thermal Research Institute (ASTRI), emphasizes the potential of solar thermal heat storage for regional Australia. As coal-powered plants retire in the next decade, industries that require heat and power may migrate to regional areas where solar generation potential is higher. Solar thermal allows these industries to operate round-the-clock, offering a sustainable and cost-effective energy solution.
To demonstrate the power of solar thermal heat storage, a Mars Petcare manufacturing facility in Wodonga, Victoria, installed a heat storage system developed by Graphite Energy. This system utilizes a graphite block container that stores heat during the day and releases it at night to generate steam for cooking pet food. The successful deployment of this technology has sparked interest from industry leaders who are now considering adopting similar systems.
Solar thermal heat storage is not intended to replace photovoltaic panels or batteries. Instead, it complements them by providing a continuous supply of power during the night. PV panels generate electricity during the day, which can be stored in batteries to meet evening peak demand. Solar thermal heat storage ensures that the energy needs of industries can be met throughout the night.
With further developments, such as Concentrated Solar Thermal (CST) systems, Australia’s potential to become a leader in solar thermal is immense. CST systems utilize mirrors to concentrate sunlight onto a receiver where the heat is captured and stored. By combining PV panels, batteries, and solar thermal systems, Australia can create a diverse and robust renewable energy infrastructure.
Solar thermal heat storage represents a significant opportunity for Australia to transition to sustainable energy sources. Its simplicity, cost-effectiveness, and ability to support round-the-clock operations make it an attractive option. As the country seeks to establish its position in the global energy market, embracing solar thermal heat storage could pave the way for a lucrative and environmentally conscious future.
What is solar thermal heat storage?
Solar thermal heat storage involves capturing heat from the sun and storing it in materials like salt, oil, water, or graphite. This stored heat can be used to generate steam, which drives turbines to produce electricity.
How does solar thermal heat storage complement other renewable energy sources?
Solar thermal heat storage works alongside photovoltaic panels and batteries. PV panels generate electricity during the day, while batteries store excess power. Solar thermal heat storage ensures a continuous supply of electricity during the night, making it an ideal solution for industries with 24/7 operations.
What are the advantages of solar thermal heat storage?
Solar thermal heat storage offers a renewable and cost-effective solution for generating electricity overnight. It has the potential to drive industrial growth in regional areas of Australia, where solar generation potential is high. Additionally, solar thermal heat storage reduces reliance on fossil fuels and helps to mitigate environmental impacts.
Is solar thermal heat storage widely adopted?
Solar thermal heat storage is still relatively new in Australia. However, successful deployments, such as the heat storage system at Mars Petcare in Wodonga, are paving the way for broader adoption. As coal-fired power stations retire, the demand for alternative energy sources is expected to drive the growth of solar thermal heat storage technology.