ASTRI and CST Overview

Concentrating Solar Thermal (CST) started as a vision – to generate electricity from an inexhaustible source, that was available to everyone and which didn’t pollute the world.

Today, CST technology stands as a global industry poised for significant growth on the back of the need to decarbonise the world energy system.

With recent rapid development of skills, capability and technology across nations such as Chile, Morocco, China, India and the USA, the International Energy Agency now predicts solar energy technologies (CST and PV) could become the largest source of electricity worldwide before 2050.

What’s in it for Australia?

Australia can be at the table when global opportunities for CST market development and technology commercialisation are divided.

Few countries in the world meet the conditions that make Australia one of the strongest, if not the strongest, potential contributors to technologies that will shape the future of this industry.

Enter the Australian Solar Thermal Research Initiative (ASTRI), an eight-year, $87.3 million research initiative designed to support an emerging CST industry in Australia – to deliver cost reductions and dispatchability improvements to CST technologies and to train the new cohort of high-quality and industry-aware graduates with the required CST skills to convert this opportunity into new markets and gross domestic product (GDP) growth for the nation.

Since ASTRI started in November 2012, the research program has achieved the following:

  • A significant increase in participation of the Australian research community in CST. This is shown in the participation of Australian researchers in national and international conferences, in the participation of Australian research institutions in international CST research projects and programs, in the quality of the CST proposals submitted to ARENA and other funding bodies, and in the increased numbers of doctoral students and post-doctoral fellows engaged in CST research.
  • A dramatic increase in the capabilities and know-how in the field of CST technologies of the Australian universities that are part of ASTRI. This is shown in the increased quality of their contributions to the research program, which reflect a continuous advance in their understanding of the problems and advantages associated to CST technologies.
  • The agreement among ASTRI partners on a clear strategy to achieve the fundamental technological challenge of ASTRI – to substantially improve the cost competitiveness of CST technologies for electricity production and for the production of synthetic fuels. This strategy is based upon the concept of ASTRI CST configurations, which are solar power plant configurations with the potential to achieve the technical target of ASTRI in terms of the LCOE of the electricity produced by the power plant or in terms of the LCOE of the synthetic fuels produced.
  • The exploration of new exciting disruptive CST technologies with the potential to make a big difference and to position Australia at the forefront of CST technologies worldwide. As a strategic research initiative, ASTRI has supported research on innovative concepts to deliver relevant research outputs that produce a suite of commercialisable outcomes.
  • The gradual emergence of ASTRI as the reference forum where industry, researchers, and policy makers discuss about what opportunities CST can offer to Australia and how to seize these opportunities. This is shown in the increased relevance and developing profile of public aspects of the Annual ASTRI Workshop, the participation of ASTRI representatives in government and industry events, the increased engagement with industry in Australia, and the role that ASTRI is playing in formulating an overall CST strategy for Australia. This strategy is a topic presented in this Annual Report, together with a proposal to further align ASTRI with this strategy and maximise the impact of the research program for Australia.


ASTRI adapting to change

As a response to the Federal Government’s new Innovation and Science Agenda calls for stronger collaboration between industry and research institutions, ASTRI is adapting from what was originally a strategic science research initiative to more of an industry development approach.

Feedback to date suggests ASTRI should, alongside its existing technical and capability development, also take responsibility for additional goals, designed to explore and promote the value proposition of niche market applications of CST technology in the Australian context – we see this as development and leadership of ‘an Australian CST Strategy’.

The aim of this strategy would be to support and validate ARENA’s continued investment in CST research and development, and to influence the CST sector in Australia to ‘opt-into’ and advocate for its adoption across a range of sectors to drive commercialisation and industry creation.

Likewise, the program should highlight the opportunities for strong realisation of benefits from CST developments for the Australian public and the social benefits of a shift to decarbonise our energy networks and industrial processes as a nation.