w00t! Solar Thermal in Port Augusta


5+ years of campaigning and we finally have some great news. Solar Thermal is going to be build in Port Augusta!

Key Points

  • 150MW CST (Concentrating Solar Thermal) plant.
  • The South Australian state government is buying the power from it at a maximum of $78 per megawatt hour.
  • It’ll be build close to Port Augusta
  • Will cost $650 Million to create
  • Will be build by Solar Reserve
  • Starting construction in 2018, to be completed by 2020.
  • Will have 8-10 hours of storage (so about 10x the storage of the big Tesla battery)





Today, we are taking another massive step forward in delivering our plan for reliable, affordable and clean power for all South Australians.

My Government is backing a world-leading renewable energy project – a solar thermal plant in Port Augusta – delivered by SolarReserve.

This 150MW plant, the biggest of its kind in the world, will supply the Government with its electricity needs and provide more competition to the energy market – delivering lower prices to households.

Construction of the $650 million project will begin in 2018, and is estimated to be completed in 2020.

Importantly, this project will deliver more than 700 jobs, with requirements for local workers, supporting our State’s regions.

The Port Augusta story is a shining example of the transition of the South Australian economy.

We’ve seen the closure of a dirty coal-fired power station. We’re now seeing the commissioning of this world-leading renewable energy project.

This shows just how far renewable technologies have come. Renewables have always been cleaner. Renewables are now cheaper. And importantly, renewables are providing certainty and stability to the market.

This, in addition to our State-owned gas plant, and the world’s largest lithium ion battery, will help to make our energy grid more secure.

It’s another key part of our energy plan, delivering South Australian power for South Australians.



Repower Port Augusta streamed some of the press release live:

BREAKING: Jay Weatherill announces the world's biggest solar thermal power plant to be built in Port Augusta! This is a huge win for our community, South Australia, and the whole country! #solar4ptaugusta

Posted by Repower Port Augusta on Sunday, 13 August 2017


The main reason the Repower Pt Augusta campaign exists is because of the group Beyond Zero Emissions.

They created the Stationary Energy plan, explaining how Australia can get to 100% renewables within 10 years. As part of that it explained how Solar Thermal with storage is needed to help counter the variability of wind. It also showed how Pt Augusta is a prime spot, has lots of power lines, is basically at the start of the desert so has lots of sun. As such they created a small publication about the specifics of Pt Augusta


The group CLEANSA (who I was actively a part of at the time) helped organise BZE to give presentations in Adelaide and Pt Augusta. This helped setup the Repower Pt Augusta community. AYCC, the Australian Youth Climate Coalition then got on board and especially with the help of Daniel Spencer the Pt Augusta community did a vote between gas and Solar Thermal, they overwhelmingly chose Solar Thermal.

Then came the big Walk for Solar. 100+ people (including myself who filmed most of it) walking from Pt Augusta to Adelaide over the course of 2 weeks, with a massive rally at the end. That was a really epic experience and very bonding. Many of the people involved have gone on to do amazing things.

With community support came political support. A Senate select committee was formed to investigate it. The commercial interest was there from very early on. However at the start Alinta energy was the owner of the Northern power station, the large coal power station that was due to be closed down. This however ended up being closed down early after a fire.

During the 5+ years there was an ever increasing amount of SA’s power being generated from wind, to the point that we were having days almost completely powered by wind, with over 30% of the generation on average.

Alinta had pulled out, the gas power plants weren’t being used much due to the gas contracts being on the International energy market and in September of 2016 there was a massive blackout in Adelaide which rattled everyone. A large Tesla battery was announced as part of the work to help counter such issues. But that’s mainly for stabilising the power with millisecond response times in case of an outage, it isn’t enough to help counter the variable wind and solar to smooth out issues over a larger time frame.

On the 14th of August the SA Government had announced it’s tender for 75% of the government’s long-term power supply. A power purchase agreement with Solar Reserve to supply the next 20 years of power, powered by Solar Thermal with molten salt storage. Success! Nearly 10x the storage of the Tesla battery. SA is on track to become mostly powered by renewables.

There’s a lot LOT more to the story, many actions, events, discussions, politics and technical points which I’ve glossed over.


News and Articles

  1. http://www.abc.net.au/news/2017-08-14/solar-thermal-power-plant-announcement-for-port-augusta/8804628 – Looks like Solar Reserve is the bidder they went with. Awesome :D
  2. http://www.adelaidenow.com.au/news/opinion/daniel-spencer-port-augusta-solar-power-plant-sends-a-message-that-renewable-energy-is-the-future/news-story/21166f3efa2a7373749861ca924b30c9 – A great article by Daniel Spencer, one of the most important, continous activists on this campaign.
  3. https://www.linkedin.com/pulse/sas-big-new-solar-plant-everything-you-need-know-ketan-joshi – Ketan Joshi shows some great stats and info.


Fixing SA’s power network

There’s a lot of buzz at the moment about a Twitter conversation between Elon Musk and Mike Cannon-Brookes about fixing South Australia’s power issues.

Elon says he can fix the issue in 100 days by providing 100+MW of battery storage. Mike Cannon-Brookes says he can find the money and deal with the politics.

As a member of both the Repower Pt Augusta alliance and also an avid Entrepreneur I’m torn.

The short of it is that battery storage is a decent but reasonably expensive short term fix, although Solar Thermal is a cheaper better long term option.

Backstory :
I was a part of the group who got Beyond Zero Emissions to come out to SA and helped with the historic meeting where we (well Mark Ogge who was the director of BZE) explained how Australia can get to 100% renewable energy within 10 years using a combination of Solar Thermal and wind power.

Solar Thermal being a large power plant that uses mirrors to concentrate the suns energy at a tower where it heats a molten salt to about 560°C the hot liquid is stored in an insulated tank and when you need power you put the molten salt near water, the water turns to steam and the steam turns turbines, just like a standard coal or gas power plant. What’s great is it’s renewable but also because of the storage it can work at night or ramp up/down do deal with the changes in demand and variable energy supply from wind and solar pv.

This was all many years ago. We did a big Walk for Solar back in 2012 and I filmed most of it. That’s over half a decade ago now that we’ve known that the Nothern power station was going to close down, that the domestic gas contracts were going to be linked to the International energy market and the blackout issues we are seeing today would come about if nothing was done.

5+ years of campaigning. The community is behind the idea and why shouldn’t they be, the creation of Solar Thermal power plant also means the creation of a new manufacturing industry and lots of jobs, plus stable electricity prices as well as stable power.

We wouldn’t be in this mess if even just 2 or so years ago the Government or energy companies took up the call and we’d started building. Solar Reserve and other such solar thermal companies have had people willing to provide the investment for years, but they need a buyer of the energy.
Unfortunately a lack of long term thinking and I suspect some wilful ignorance has lead us to the point that there’s been some very disruptive blackouts.

The entrepreneur in me wants to see Tesla battery storage happen here. even just the chance that Elon might visit SA gives me tingles and I remember walking past Atlassian and going to some startup drinks events in Sydney hoping to see Mike Cannon-Brookes who’s definitely the Aussie Entrepreneurial superstar. But I also recognise that there’s other options here in Australia like Zen Energy or RedFlow which has Simon Hackett behind it and even just the reduced transport would probably make it worth it.

I should note that CORENA, the Citizens Own Renewable Energy Network Australia, of which I’m a board member currently doesn’t fund battery storage, only Solar PV installations and energy efficiency measures as those are what reduce CO2 emissions the most effectively.

Of course any of the battery options is going to be a better short term fix then one suggested option of building yet another Gas plant. South Australia already has enough gas generation to power all of SA but as I mentioned over the last few years the commercial gas contracts have been linked to the International energy market, especially Japan. As such the gas companies find it more profitable to sell the gas to Japan then burn it here and sell the Electricity.

If you follow the scent the gas option has the smell of lobbying from the fossil fuel industry. They are trying to get fracking to happen here in SA so they can sell even more gas, but will destroy large areas of land, especially farmland, in doing so.

To me it comes down to this :

  • We have enough variable wind and solar that we need storage.
  • Solar Thermal is awesome as the price of renewables goes down over time whilst also providing both energy generation and storage.
  • Batteries are a bit of a zero sum game. They help smooth things out, but don’t help us transition to cheaper, renewable energy. They can however be installed fairly fast.
  • Gas is a negative sum game. The prices go up over time as it’s harder to extract finite fossil fuels and the prices wildly fluctuate in the mean time.

This means that batteries could create a great one, two punch when followed up with Solar Thermal.

As a side note there’s another option that could be done with the battery storage. Microgrids. Instead of connecting the 100MW of power to a couple of substations you could setup a shipping container sized setup in each block or so that can have the energy of that block or even suburb connect to it, you’d have storage, but in a distributed way that would allow more community connection. SolarPV owners could be charging their local microgrid which with enough Solar PV could make it self-sufficient. But in our privatised energy market this seems like a pipe dream.

For more information check out :
http://www.repowerportaugusta.org/ – Repower Port Augusta. The campaign to get Solar Thermal built in South Australia.

http://corenafund.org.au/ – CORENA A revolving funding model applied to Solar PV and other renewables and energy efficiency. I’m on the board.

http://www.abc.net.au/news/2017-03-10/tesla-boss-elon-musk-pledges-to-fix-sas-electricity-woes/8344084 – The first article I read about this.

Disclaimer: These are my own thoughts and are not necessarily representative of the organisations that I’m associated with.

SA Power outage Blackstart in relatively plain English

On Wednesday 28 September 2016 at 4:16pm South Australia had a state wide power outage, a black start event.

I, like most people were still at work and managed to continue working for a couple of hours thanks to laptop batteries and mobile phone internet. Although riding my bike home would have been crazy given the storm and lack of traffic lights. Thankfully I got a lift home. By 11:06pm the power came back on at my place. Having the entire state’s power go out is certainly not something that happens very often, as such it begs the question as to what happened.

The short version

3 main power lines got damaged by the storm, all within less than a minute. The loss of power from them meant an increase in load from Victoria, the load was more than that connection could handle, to protect itself from overloading it disconnected. With such a sudden drop in power the remaining power generators also tripped.

The 3 main connections which were severed by the storm were 275,000 volt transmission lines. The really big ones that usually buzz. It is believed that a Tornado or at least very high wind gust caused the damage.

One of the High Voltage Power Lines Destroyed by the Storm
One of the High Voltage Power Lines Destroyed by the Storm (Source: ABC)


The more detailed explanation

It was the storm which caused the outage as it caused 3 high voltage power lines from the North of the state to be damaged with 22 towers damaged or destroyed. The 4th high voltage line also tripped, but was not directly damaged.
They all disconnected within the space of about 40 seconds. South Australia was using about 1,826MW of power at the time and without the 315MW of (wind) power from the connectors the energy needed to come from somewhere. There was increased load on the Heywood Interconnector to Victoria to compensate. This went from delivering 525MW to well over the 600MW maximum rating it was designed to transmit. As a protection measure the connection was dropped, meaning that within less than a minute (and most of it happening within a couple of seconds) the state was now 850MW-900MW short of power.
The unexpected disconnections also caused the frequency of the electricity supply to change to fast. The power in Australia aims to run at 50hz (the US has 60 cycles a second) and the frequency is allowed to change by 1 Hz/second and the power generators don’t run if it’s below 47 Hz. The loss of the link to Victoria caused the frequency to drop by 6 and 7 Hz per second, far more than is tolerable, thus the rest of the power generation, the wind generators and Torrens Island power station were all dropped and the state went black.

To restore power the electricity companies had to initiate a black start procedure. From 5:23pm Electranet went and selectively turned on the Heywood interconnector, trying to get power to Torrens Island. This was important as it’s a gas fired power station able to generate up to 1,280MW of power and thus can help offset the lost power from the disconnected power lines. unfortunately the power station needs a lot of electricity to start and attempts to do that with the backup power didn’t work and storm damage caused the secondary backup to fail. The priority was getting the power from Victoria to Torrens Island. The power station was back up and running at 9pm. Pelican Point power station was also switched on (it hadn’t been running prior to the blackout) and was generating power by 10:05pm
By midnight on Wednesday (28th), 80–90% of electricity that could be reconnected was. Unfortunately due to the power line failures the North was effectively cut off from the rest of the state and it wasn’t until 9pm on Friday (30th September) 2016, that the last remaining transmission line to the southern Eyre Peninsula, was restored.

There’s an interesting part about how the 4th line that tripped but wasn’t destroyed. Because of the damage to the lines it is practice and ElectraNet’s operating procedure to conduct a patrol before reconnecting a line when such a ground fault occurs. Unfortunately the continued rain, poor weather and high winds (with gusts up to 120Km/h) meant the helicopters were grounded. This meant some poor sods had to drive along hundreds of km’s of power lines making sure they were fine. Thankfully the 4th line was confirmed intact and reconnected around noon on Thursday. I would like to thank the people who had to put in heroic efforts to get the power restored. Thank you.


Power Generation before Blackstart
Power Generation before Blackstart


There’s an average of 16 tornadoes we know about a year in Australia and where they occurred is a known higher risk area during a time of higher activity. I’ve been told that whilst the Bureau of Meteorology can identify structures in the radar images that indicate the potential for tornadoes to develop, they can’t directly identify Tornadoes and instead rely on reports, or video from the public, emergency services and the like. Such evidence points to there being 4 tornadoes during the storm around and F1 and F2 in scale, thus it’s certainly possible there was winds up to 140Km/h that likely caused the damage to the towers.

Below is a video of a tornado forming outside Blyth on the day.


For those wanting to see a variety of stats related to electricity production check out the AER website.


Update :

There was over 200,000+ households without power on the 1st of Dec 2016 after the Heywood Interconnector dropped out the AEMO media statement mentions it was “Due to the need to balance the frequency of the network”, which further strengthens the case for Solar Thermal in Pt Augusta as such a power station would provide not just better energy security but also the Frequency Anxillary Control Services needed in this case.

Lets Treat Violence like a Contagious Disease

A number of years ago I watched Gary Slutkin’s TED talk on treating violence like a contagious disease and it has drastically changed the way I think about terrorist attacks, military war, police brutality, world peace and more.

If you haven’t watched the presentation already I HIGHLY recommend you do. Actually the rest of the article expects that you have.


OK I know you haven’t watched the TED talk yet but the crux of it around hiring new categories of workers, the first being violence interrupters. They are hired from the same group for the credibility, trust and access. Just like the health workers in Somalia, but designed for a different category. They are trained in persuasion, cooling people down, buying time and reframing.
Then there’s the outreach workers who to keep people on therapy for six to 24 months. Just like treating Tuberculosis, but the object is behavior change. There is also a bunch of community activities for changing norms.


I had that talk in the back of my mind when today I came across an article on Medium titled Some Numbers on Terror by Tom Pollock and whilst I knew that you were far more likely to die of a car crash than a terrorist attack, he explains the point well.

He’s talking about the terrorist attack in Nice, France and a quote from his article :

In France, in the last two years, there have been 8 attacks for which responsibility was claimed by Islamic Extremist Terrorists, killing a total of 247 people. There are 66,000,000 people in France. At the current level of activity, their odds of being killed in a terrorist attack in a given year are less than two ten-thousandths of one per cent. That’s 27 times lower than their odds of dying in a car accident.

Even if the current level of attacks continues for 80 years (which would be unprecedented), a child born today in France would have only one percent of a one percent chance of being killed in one.

In Turkey, the probability is lower. 194 people killed in attacks since the start of 2015, with a population of 80,000,000 gives each one of them a roughly one ten-thousandth of one percent chance of being killed in one, in any given year.


Now he does point out how there’s a major difference between being killed by an accident and being murdered. Intent.

Whilst the type of response we need as a civilisation is the type based on Gary’s idea of treating violence like a contagious disease, I fear that we will continue to perpetuate the cycles of violence. We need people who will intervene and prevent the violence from spreading. Similar to the protagonist in Armada by Ernest Cline (I recently finished the audiobook).


From a geo-political point of view there is a lot of the hatred against Muslims refugees, especially in Europe but even here in Australia. However from my relatively limited understanding of the situation (I’m glossing over a lot). During the cold war the US indirectly gave Afghanistan Billions in weapons and training to help them fight off the USSR (Russia) who was invading at the time. In part because of the failed invasion and events like Chernobyl around the same time caused the USSR to fall apart.
Fast forward some decades and the US invades Afghanistan basically as revenge against 9/11. Firstly, this is spreading violence back to the very country which the US had already armed and taught how to fight. A rather bad idea.

Think about it, if you are a child when a foreign country invades you and kills your parents destroys your school and slaughters your friends. Are you going to grow up to be a patent lawyer, or are you more likely to be a suicide bomber? Here again the need for intervention to prevent the spread of violence could have helped.

Later, under the guise of some story about weapons of mass destruction, Iraq is invaded, although it’s well known that the main reason for the invasion of the Middle East is to secure access to oil. Later the US and it’s allies and even Russia attack Syria and other middle eastern countries in an attempt to combat a group which formed because of the very violence the ‘allies’ inflicted. There’s a mass exodus with millions of refugees fleeing. As has been done with nearly every armed conflict, there are some violent people within the refugees who have been exposed to large amounts of violence, often with an ideology which promotes it and they then spread this violence.


So from a systems perspective I see the primary reason for much of the Western violence inflicted in the Middle East is their dependence on fossil fuels. The black gold that keeps the very tanks and aircraft running and the cogs of the economy spinning. I’m reminded about Endgame by Derrick Jensen and whilst I don’t agree with his conclusion, I agree with a number of his premises the most pertinent being “In a city your life must be based on violence (due to the required importation of resources)“. This doesn’t have to be the case, we COULD have sustainable cities, but they would have to be majorly reworked so they aren’t largely depended on oil and other resources.

However, The US military budget was USD$637 Billion for 2015 (if you include ), that is to say that the US spends more on it’s ‘defence force’, than the next seven countries combined.

USD $598.5 Billion in Military


Imagine if the Trillions of dollars spent on just the US Military from the end of the cold war to now was instead spent on renewable energy technologies like solar thermal, wind and the like? The US, Australia and the ‘Allied’ countries could be exporting energy. The great thing about renewable energy is that the price goes down over time, so we would have nearly free electricity and an incredible level of abundance to go with it. Add in a culture that treats violence like a contagious disease and you have the type of world I would prefer to live in.

I would like to point out that one of the common original causes of violence is resource scarcity. Think about it, when you imagine an end of the world scenario where there’s barely any resources left then everyone is fighting over those last resources. However in a more utopian vision you usually see an abundance of resources. There’s no need to fight. As such, we should be pushing towards a post scarcity society. THAT is what is worth working towards and non-violently fighting for.

If you are interested in learning more about how we could transition towards such as society let me know and I’ll post about the Price of Zero transition.

Civilisation Breakdown

I don’t think Civilisation will collapse as everyone keeps being worried it will, it is more likely to either break down or undergo multiple major paradigm changes at once.

Henceforth I will try and use the term ‘Civilisation breakdown‘, instead of  ‘Civilisation collapse. It gives me more leeway in being able to say “I told you so!” later on… Not that such bragging rights will matter without the Internet to brag on.

Continue reading Civilisation Breakdown

Wholistic Thinking Approach… Zoom levels

The aim of this post is to show how your perspective on a problem can alter your approach to solving it.
Lets take water as an example.

You live in South Australia, the driest state in one of the driest continents in the world where there is constant water shortages.

You are having a shower, you find your brain works well in the shower, coming up with some of your best ideas, but your partner or parents complain that you are using up all the water. Let’s take the shower as the most zoomed in level.

Let’s zoom out a level to the bathroom. Out of the washing machine, toilet and hand basin your showers may very well be using up most of the water.
Zoom out again to the whole house. You might find that the garden getting watered through automatic sprinklers during summer might use more than your showering during summer, but that the bathroom in total uses more water than any other part of the house, including washing the dishes or having cooking and drinking water from the kitchen.

Zoom out to see a block of houses and you might find that the house with the biggest lawn might use more than the one with the most people.

Zoom out again and see a group of blocks and you might find that your previous findings vary, some blocks have houses with more people which use more water but on a water per person basis you might find that the richer the people the more water from the tap they use. For example they are more likely to have a pool in their backyard, however lower socio-economic classes might be more likely to drive to a community pool or the beach to enjoy their summer and are less likely to wash their car.

Zoom out further and you start to see some industrial areas, mainly factories, which on a per sq meter basis use a lot more water than residential areas. This would likely be a similar finding if you were to analyse the water usage from the reservoirs for standard tap water.

Zoom right out to the state basis and you find that whilst agricultural farming areas use less water per sq meter than factories or residential but there is simply so much more of it that they use up the vast majority of water. Although decent amounts of this come from the main river running through the state, or from underground aquifers. The problem is that the River Murray is running dry.

You could then zoom out again and look at the whole continent (of Australia in this example) and all the states and territories with which feed the River Murray and see that South Australia’s part of the River Murray is just the end of it and it is actually supplied water from three other states and that their agriculture and industries are taking more than their fair share.
If you wanted to reduce water usage at any of these levels you can see that your policies and tactics would change. It might however need a coordinated effort of water reductions in residential, industrial and agriculture with major reforms in other states (a very hard thing to do politically) in order to address the problem. If the water reservoirs are low then the approach will be different to the problem of there not being enough water in the river and these approaches will be different again if there is a desalination plant which can take up some of the slack or if the reservoirs can be filled with water from the river.


The same process can be applied to electricity. Changing every light bulb to LEDs (which are even better than compact fluros) might make only 2% reduction in overall electricity usage in the country, whilst shutting down a single aluminium smelter might make a 3% difference. But changing to renewable energy or zooming out to a global scale can change things yet again.
Note : These numbers are very inaccurate examples.

If you want to know about the level of production of renewable energy generation needed then check out the great presentation by Saul Griffith.