Seeking Solys at the Crossroads


I read somewhere some words of wisdom: “If you come to a fork in the road ...take it”.

At the top of the Spencer Gulf in South Australia lies the township of Port Augusta.  The major east-west highway connecting Perth and Sydney runs through it, as does the north-south highway connecting Adelaide and Darwin. It also lies on the routes of both the Indian-Pacific and the Ghan train lines.

Perhaps Port Augusta represents the “crossroads of Australia”  in another sense, too.

One of its main industries is power generation.  The Port Augusta power stations, Playford B, currently mothballed, and  Northern 1 and 2, have an output of around 260MW and 540MW respectively.  These stations  burn low grade brown coal freighted 250km by rail from Leigh Creek in South Australia’s far north.  The Augusta power stations are relatively high emitters of CO2

Port Augusta also experiences high levels of solar radiation. Because the power distribution infrastructure already exists there it makes a potentially promising location for a solar power station.  Advances in technologies mean that solar thermal power stations providing base load power can be viable. Such stations generate power while the sun shines but also store that energy as heat. This heat bank can be tapped into at any time, day or night, to provide an energy source for base load power.

With all this in mind, Alinta Energy - the operator of the Augusta power stations - along with the Government of South Australia and the Australian Renewable Energy Agency (ARENA), are funding a feasibility study into the viability of a solar thermal power station at the site.  Critical to this analysis is an evaluation of the actual solar resource, and that’s where MEA provides expertise and instrumentation.

In June 2014, Bruce Stasinowsky and I installed and commissioned a solar and climate monitoring station at the site chosen for the study.  I designed the system and physical layout while Bruce fully assembled, programmed and tested the system.  MEA’s previous experience with building, installation and commissioning of similar systems proved invaluable in a smooth and timely installation.

The station is a self-powered design that incorporates an Automatic Weather Station measuring the usual climate parameters plus a dedicated Solys 2 Solar Tracker. The tracker is fitted with a pyrheliometer to measure Direct Normal Irradiance (DNI – the power in the direct beam of the sun) plus two Hukseflux SR-20 pyranometers, one shaded and one exposed, to measure Diffuse Horizontal Irradiance (DHI) and Global Horizontal Irradiance (GHI) respectively.

Solys 2 Tracker

This instrumentation provides an outstanding quality of radiation measurement – the SR-20 pyranometers are secondary standard devices, the highest standard available for field use.

The Solys 2 tracker contains GPS and sophisticated microcontrollers, enabling it to track the arc of the sun throughout the year. The tracker keeps one pyranometer perfectly shaded at all times via an attached shading ball on the moving carriage, and keeps the telescope-like pyrheliometer pointed continuously directly at the sun.

We’re watching this potential development with great interest and waiting to see which road Port Augusta might take.


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