Ground-breaking renewable energy developer Vast Solar is approaching major oil companies and Australian utilities as well as renewable energy investors as it seeks $75 million to help it move forward on a $240 million project using its innovative solar thermal technology.
The capital raising quest comes after about 12 months of successful operation at a 1-megawatt pilot plant in rural NSW using the world-first technology, which combines solar and storage to generate on-demand, renewable power.
Chief executive Craig Wood said the results from the pilot plant are garnering global attention as they have demonstrated the ability to use sodium as the heat transfer fluid in the system, allowing for more efficient generation even in more cloudy conditions.
Vast Solar’s concentrated solar thermal power pilot project in Jemalong, NSW has been working for almost a year.
“We get better performance and lower risk,” he said.
The next step targeted by Vast Solar, whose biggest shareholder is AGCentral owned by Johnny Kahlbetzer of the billionaire Rich Lister Kahlbetzer family, is a 50 MW project comprising a 30 MW demonstration plant using the technology and a 20 MW solar photovoltaic installation, Mr Wood said.
Vast Solar is talking to the Australian Renewable Energy Agency, which backed the pilot project, to help fund the plant, as well as the Clean Energy Finance Corporation and the governments of NSW, Queensland and South Australia as it considers several alternative sites in those states.
The $75 million of new capital being sought in a process being run by investment bank Moelis would likely partly fund business development, engineering and manufacturing capacity needed for the supply chain, and an equity stake in the business, Mr Wood said.
Initial flyers for the opportunity are understood to have been circulated to investors in the Middle East and China, as well as to industrial firms, international “impact’ investors and petroleum producers as international players such as Shell, Total and BP step up investments in clean technologies that complement gas. An information memorandum is due to go out in mid-March, with the process targeted for completion by mid-year.
Vast Solar has also submitted a proposal to the Morrison government’s controversial new power plant underwriting scheme, the Underwriting New Generation Investments program, given it fits with the mandate for “firm” generation, Mr Wood said.
The demonstration project will involve 10 hours of storage capacity, provided through molten salt, allowing the plant to harvest sunlight during the day and to continue to operate through the evening peak. The controllability of the heat flow provided by the sodium allows the turbine then to be switched to low overnight and turned back up to meet the morning peak before the solar collector system kicks in again after sun-up.
Vast Solar’s technology differs from that used by the higher-profile $650 million Solar Reserve project proposed for Port Augusta in South Australia’s north, which uses molten salt both as the heat transfer material and for storage. The Vast Solar project uses sodium for heat transfer, and salt for storage, with both producing steam to power a turbine to generate electricity.