Wednesday, May 20, 2015

Sustainability Drinks

There’s a lively group called “Sustainability Drinks” in Sydney.  They meet monthly and hear a few short presentations from people working in the sustainability industry.  I was an invited speaker last night, and this is what I said to the audience of around 120 people …
My name is Noel Barton, although on Fridays I call myself Geoff.  That’s a complicated story I can explain later.
I was originally an applied mathematician, finishing my studies with a PhD at the University of Western Australia in 1973.  I had a post-doctoral scholarship at the University of Cambridge (UK), then teaching stints at the University of Queensland and University of NSW (1975-81).  From 1981 to 2003 I worked for CSIRO, where I had a varied and good career, initially as a researcher and subsequently as leader of CSIRO’s applied mathematicians for a dozen years.  The job involved industrial applications of mathematics, a concept that occupied me for two decades.
I was also Director of the 5th International Congress on Industrial and Applied Mathematics, held in Sydney in 2003.  The event, the biggest mathematical conference ever held in Australia, attracted about 1900 registrations.  As a result, I’m an Ambassador of Business Events Sydney, the group with responsibility to attract conferences and exhibitions to Sydney.  That’s a big business.
In 2003, at age 55, I came to a point of career renewal.  Should I re-invent myself inside CSIRO?  Or break out?  As it happened, my children were fully educated and independent, and I’d had a nasty health scare a couple of years earlier.  I was able to take an early retirement option and follow my passion, which was to become an inventor, mainly in new concepts for solar thermal power generation.
There’s a very nice book about happiness written by Martin Seligman – you look for pleasure and gratification at the basic level (well I already had that!), then move on to exercise of your strengths and virtues (my inventive and mathematical skills) and finally to meaning and purpose (doing something worthwhile).  So the role of an inventor in solar energy really appealed.
I set up my own business, Sunoba Pty Ltd.  In 2004 I invented and subsequently patented a completely new thermodynamic cycle for power generation; it’s based on evaporative cooling of hot air at reduced pressure.  I made a theoretical analysis of the concept and built an experimental engine to verify the theory.  But my experimental engine had a terrible operating mechanism and I had no funds for development of the improved mechanism I’d invented.  I spent several years looking for investors, but wasn’t able to convince anyone that the engine was worthwhile.  And, to be honest, the engine was big, under-powered and needed lots of water for operation.
Eventually I abandoned work on the evaporation engine.  I now regard the episode as an excellent learning experience, but you might hear me wince with pain as I relate the story!
ll was not lost however.  As part of my research program I’d been working on storage of solar thermal energy in pebble beds.  I realised that a form of the Brayton-cycle engine could be integrated with pebble bed storage to give a very promising concept for solar thermal power generation.  The expected Levelised Cost of Electricity was good, there was storage for operation after dark and the possibility for co-firing with other fuels.
That’s my current focus, and it’s still looking good a few years later.  With the assistance of investors, I hope to carry out experiments on a small engine later this year.  If the tests are successful, we’ll move on to bigger things.
We all know about the rapid growth of PV.  Some argue that solar thermal power generation will be killed off by PV together with new forms of battery storage.  I don’t agree with that.  Solar thermal power generation has excellent storage capabilities and allows for co-firing so as to give on-demand despatchable power, even when the sun doesn’t shine and the wind doesn’t blow for weeks at a time.  I think those attributes will find a place in the 100% renewable energy systems of the future. 
In any case, I have a wise inventor friend who says you don’t have to save the world – just find a profitable solution in one tiny niche of the world’s vast energy system!
I’m always happy to have conversations about solar thermal power generation, just get in touch.
I’ll finish with two remarks:
I’m currently Convenor of the Sydney Central Chapter of the Australian Solar Council.  Our main activity is to hold Information Evenings on the 4th Tuesday of each month and we’re always looking for speakers.  Just get in touch with me if you would like to attend or speak.
Finally, I run a blog, which you can see at  In trying to attract investors for a new invention in power generation, you always get the same questions:
  • What is this technology?
  • How well does it work?
  • How much does it cost?
  • How does it compare to other technologies?
I needed to answer those questions, so I started to collect information on the cost of solar projects.  I have now analysed the LCOE for 52 solar projects worldwide.  The blog also analyses a couple of tidal projects and one geothermal project.  The database and results are available to all, just visit the blog,

You'll also see other quirky things there, such as when our fossil fuels will run out, the real cost of coal-fired power, life-cycle analyses for batteries, the cost of battery storage, beyond-Carnot heat pumps, and my favourite – if you burn 1 kg of coal, how much heat will be trapped by CO2 in the earth’s atmosphere?  And how does that compare to the heat generated by combustion?

Monday, May 11, 2015

Cost of solar power (52)

The Barcaldine Solar Farm sounds like a solar farm from central casting.

It’s located in the middle of the vast state of Queensland where the solar resource is outstanding.  The actual site is adjacent to an existing generation facility with a 38 MW gas turbine and a 15 MW steam turbine, with immediate connections to the grid available.  Lastly, the site is over 1,000 km from the next nearest generation facility, so it’s an end-of-grid installation with little competition from other generators.

The project is being developed by Barcaldine Remote Community Solar Farm Pty Ltd, which is jointly owned by Kingsway Europe SL and Elecnor Australia Pty Ltd.  Kingsway Europe is a company established to invest in renewable energy projects and other assets, securing funding from both its shareholders and the banking community.  Elecnor Australia Pty Ltd is a subsidiary of Elecnor SA, one of the world’s leading solar energy development companies.  Elecnor SA was established in 1958 and now operates in 33 countries with over 13,000 employees generating revenue in excess of over USD 3 billion each year.

For further details, see

So this project should be deliverable at the level of world’s best practice.

The timeline envisages detailed design in late 2015, final approvals and construction in 2016 and commissioning in early 2017.  At the moment, it’s planned to be 23.6 MW peak output, with annual output of 53,000 MWh.  The PV panels will be from a Tier 1 supplier (yet to be decided) and will have single-axis tracking.  The cost of the project is estimated to be between AUD 55 million and AUD 65 million.  Let me take the average, AUD 60 million.

The Capacity Factor for this installation is 53,000/(23.6 × 365 × 24) = 0.256.

We can now proceed to analyse the Levelised Cost of Electricity (LCOE) using my standard assumptions:

  • there is no inflation,
  • taxation implications are neglected,
  • projects are funded entirely by debt,
  • all projects have the same interest rate (8%) and payback period (25 years), which means that the required rate of capital return is 9.4%,
  • all projects have the same annual maintenance and operating costs (2% of the total project cost), and
  • government subsidies are neglected.
For further commentary on my LCOE methodology, see posts on Real cost of coal-fired power, LEC – the accountant’s view, Cost of solar power (10) and (especially) Yet more on LEC.  Note that I am now using annual maintenance costs of 2% rather than 3% as in posts during 2011.

The results for the Barcaldine Solar Farm are as follows:
Cost per peak Watt              AUD 2.54/Wp
LCOE                                     AUD 129/MWh

The components of the LCOE are:

Capital           {0.094 × AUD 60×106}/{53,000 MWhr} = AUD 106/MWhr
O&M              {0.020 × AUD 60×106}/{53,000 MWhr} = AUD 23/MWhr

By way of comparison, LCOE figures (in appropriate currency per MWh) for all projects I’ve investigated are given below.  The number in brackets is the reference to the blog post, all of which appear in my index of posts with the title “Cost of solar power ([number])”:

(2)        AUD 183 (Nyngan, Australia, PV)
(3)        EUR 503 (Olmedilla, Spain, PV, 2008)
(3)        EUR 188 (Andasol I, Spain, trough, 2009)
(4)        AUD 236 (Greenough, Australia, PV)
(5)        AUD 397 (Solar Oasis, Australia, dish, 2014?)
(6)        USD 163 (Lazio, Italy, PV)
(7)        AUD 271 (Kogan Creek, Australia, CLFR pre-heat, 2012?)
(8)        USD 228 (New Mexico, CdTe thin film PV, 2011)
(9)        EUR 200 (Ibersol, Spain, trough, 2011)
(10)      USD 231 (Ivanpah, California, tower, 2013?)
(11)      CAD 409 (Stardale, Canada, PV, 2012)
(12)      USD 290 (Blythe, California, trough, 2012?)
(13)      AUD 285 (Solar Dawn, Australia, CLFR, 2013?)
(14)      AUD 263 (Moree Solar Farm, Australia, single-axis PV, 2013?)
(15)      EUR 350 (Lieberose, Germany, thin-film PV, 2009)
(16)      EUR 300 (Gemasolar, Spain, tower, 2011)
(17)      EUR 228 (Meuro, Germany, crystalline PV, 2012)
(18)      USD 204 (Crescent Dunes, USA, tower, 2013)
(19)      AUD 316 (University of Queensland, fixed PV, 2011)
(20)      EUR 241 (Ait Baha, Morocco, 1-axis solar thermal, 2012)
(21)      EUR 227 (Shivajinagar Sakri, India, PV, 2012)
(22)      JPY 36,076 (Kagoshima, Kyushu, Japan, PV, start July 2012)
(23)      AUD 249 (NEXTDC, Port Melbourne, PV, Q2 2012)
(24)      USD 319 (Maryland Solar Farm, thin-film PV, Q4 2012)
(25)      EUR 207 (GERO Solarpark, Germany, PV, May 2012)
(26)      AUD 259 (Kamberra Winery, Australia, PV, June 2012)
(27)      EUR 105 (Calera y Chozas, PV, Q4 2012)
(28)      AUD 205 (Nyngan and Broken Hill, thin film PV, end 2014?)
(29)      AUD 342 (City of Sydney, multiple sites, PV, 2012)
(30)      AUD 281 (Uterne, PV, single-axis tracking, 2011)
(31)      JPY 31,448 (Oita, PV?, Japan, to open March 2014)
(32)      USD 342 (Shams, Abu Dhabi, trough, to open early 2013)
(34)      USD 272 (Daggett, California, designed 2010)
(35)      GBP 148 (Wymeswold, UK, PV, March 2013)
(36)      USD 139 (South Georgia, PV, June 2014)
(37)      USD 169 (Antelope Valley, CdTe PV, end 2015)
(38)      AUD 137 (Mugga Lane, PV, mid 2014)
(39)      AUD 163 (Coree, fixed PV, Feb 2015)
(40)      AUD 298 (Ferngrove Winery, PV, July 2013)
(41)      USD 125 (Cerro Dominador, CST, mid 2017)
(42)      USD 190 (La Paz, PV, September 2013)
(43)      USD 152 (Austin Energy, PV, 2016)
(44)      AUD 304 (Weipa, PV, January 2015)
(45)      AUD 256 (Kalgoorlie-Boulder, PV, August 2014)
(46)      AUD 141 (new Moree Solar Farm, PV, one-axis tracking, December 2015)
(47)      AUD 184 (Brookfarm, PV, December 2015)
(48)      USD 110 (Amanecer, PV, June 2014
(49)      USD 113 (DEWA, PV, April 2016)
(50)      USD 284 (Ashalim, solar thermal, 2017)
(51)      USD 256 (Xina Solar One, solar thermal, 2017)
(52)      AUD 129 (Barcaldine, PV, one-axis, March 2017)


You can compare results with my LCOE graphic.

On this analysis, the LCOE for the Barcaldine Solar Farm is indeed excellent, broadly comparable to the best two projects I’ve analysed, namely Amanecer and DEWA.  The Capacity Factor of the Barcaldine project is 53,000 / (365 × 24 × 23.6) = 0.256, roughly what I’d expect from one-axis tracking at a good location.

In all, this project should be world-class.  I hope the developers are able to deliver according to their plans, especially in the presence of hostile government policy in Australia at the moment.

Note added 11 December 2015

This project has now reached financial closure and is ready for construction.  I’ve updated the LCOE details in this post.