CST strategy for Australia
What does Australia’s overall CST Strategy look like?
To develop a viable CST industry, Australia needs a multi-faceted strategy focused, first and foremost, on improving the cost competitiveness of CST technologies and reducing risk. This multi-faceted strategy is based on the following actions:
- The identification of niche markets within Australia to allow for:
- Multiple deployments of CST systems by end-users to activate the CST industry learning curve.
- CST technology providers gaining operational experience to make incremental technology improvements. Development of thermal process applications from versatile collection, concentration and capture sub-systems to further diversify the end-user market
- The adaptation of local industries to supply CST-related components and services and CST developers, such as early stage companies, smart-sourcing standard components from other industries and adapting or using them for CST applications
- The engagement and coordination of the Australian research system, in collaboration with industry, to carry out whole-of-system CST research to ensure new sub-system innovations integrate into overall cost reductions.
Proposed variations to ASTRI
To align ASTRI with the overall CST strategy for Australia proposed above, some modifications need to be introduced to the program in terms of goals, scope, and resources. The general modifications are about:
- Adopting the maximization of impact for Australia as a guiding principle
- Broadening the techno-economic goal
- Broadening the mandate of ASTRI and increasing industry engagement
As usual there is a positive correlation between funding and resourcing and likelihood of success and strength of the impact for Australia.
Adopting the maximization of impact for Australia as a guiding principle
ASTRI may evolve to include additional goals designed to achieve the ‘Overall CST Strategy for Australia.’ For this to be operationalised within the governance and management structures of ASTRI, a continuous activity at the core of the ASTRI management team should be the quantification of the impact that the program could deliver for Australia. The quantification of this impact should not only serve as a guide to determine the priorities within the strategic research program, but as a powerful tool to convey the importance of ASTRI and CST technologies for Australia.
In principle, the total impact that ASTRI could deliver for Australia can be divided into the impact associated with:
- Contributing to the creation of a national CST industry able to seize a substantial share of the international opportunities that will increasingly arise in many countries around the world.
- Contributing to the decarbonisation of the Australian energy system.
By its own nature the quantification of the above impacts will always be a work in progress, which can be perfected both technically and in the form it is conveyed to the ASTRI stakeholders and the Australian society at large. It is proposed that this impact quantification will replace the present Key Performance Indicators (KPIs).
Broadening the techno-economic goal
Currently, the main technical goal of ASTRI is aligned with the USA SunShot objective to substantially reduce the LCOE of CST power plants. This goal has resulted in the selection by the ASTRI partners of solar tower technology as the technology of choice. However, one of the first steps in the ‘Overall CST Strategy for Australia’ is the identification and targeting of niche domestic markets in order to provide market opportunities for the national CST industry to kick-off and start the process of technological cost reductions by traveling down the learning curve. Since not all of the possible niche markets are related to electricity production, the technical goal of the ASTRI program should be modified to reflect this.
Thus, the proposed techno-economic goal for the program is:
To develop innovative technological solutions to dramatically increase the cost competitiveness of CST technologies in all their fields of application: Solar Thermal Electricity (STE), Solar Chemistry, and Solar Thermal Processes at large.
The strategy to achieve this new goal necessarily implies to open the scope of ASTRI and to explore additional CST technology options, such as parabolic trough, linear Fresnel, or dishes, since depending on the application and range of operating temperatures they could make more sense than solar tower technology in some instances.
Broadening the mandate of ASTRI and increasing industry engagement
To expand the techno-economic goal of the program, ASTRI will need to be extremely pro-active in promoting the development of an Australian CST industry, which can reap the benefits of the innovations that are being developed under the program, and which can assist in defining research priorities, refining cost estimates, improving risk assessments, and moving the innovations up in the Technology Readiness Level (TRL) scale. This implies:
- Educating industry, policymakers, and other stakeholders, about the opportunities and solutions that CST technology can provide,
- Carrying out scoping and feasibility studies in collaboration with industry to identify opportunities to integrate CST technologies into existing or future industrial processes.
- Collaborating with industry in the development of technological solutions for short and mid, and long-term commercial opportunities.
- Supporting the creation of start-ups or the consolidation of existing start-ups focused on the commercialization of innovative CST technologies with the potential to substantially improve the cost competitiveness of these technologies.
The above activities will benefit from the human capacity developed by ASTRI during the first four years of the program and represent a qualitative and quantitative extension of this CST capacity building for Australia. To carry them out, a stronger focus than now in moving the innovations under development within ASTRI up the TRL scale is needed. This in turn, necessarily implies a stronger involvement from the part of CSIRO to take advantage of its wealth of experience in transforming research ideas into commercial products and services.
The implementation of the above general modifications necessarily implies a redistribution budget, a re-orientation of effort and resources, and a substantial reinforcement of the ASTRI management team in order to fulfil the new functions and obligations that these measures entail. In principle, the redistribution of budget and effort will be dictated by the overall budget and resources available, as well as the principle of using them to maximise the potential impact that the program will deliver for Australia.