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The biggest solar thermal power plant of its kind in the world, a 150-megawatt structure set to be built in Port Augusta in South Australia has got the green light.

As well as providing around 650 construction jobs for local workers, the plant will provide all the electricity needs for the state government, with some to spare – and it should help to make solar energy even more affordable in the future.

Work on the AU$650 million (US$510 million) plant is getting underway next year and is slated to be completed in 2020, adding to Australia's growing list of impressive renewable energy projects that already cover solar and tidal.

"The significance of solar thermal generation lies in its ability to provide energy virtually on demand through the use of thermal energy storage to store heat for running the power turbines," says sustainable energy engineering professor Wasim Saman, from the University of South Australia.

The developers of the Port Augusta plant say it can continue to generate power at full load for up to 8 hours after the Sun's gone down.

Renewable energy sources now account for more than 40 percent of the electricity generated in South Australia, and as solar becomes a more stable and reliable provider of energy, that in turn pushes prices lower.

Importantly, the cost of the new plant is well below the estimated cost of a new coal-fired power station, giving the government another reason to back renewables. The cost-per-megawatt of the new plant works out about the same as wind power and solar photovoltaic plants.

And as renewables become more and more important to our power grids, expect to see this huge solar thermal plant eventually get eclipsed by a bigger one.

Source:  www.sciencealert.com

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