Cloncurry, situated in north west Queensland, Australia, 770 kilometres west of Townsville was to have become the state’s first totally solar powered town back in 2009.

The project was to have been situated on a 10 hectare piece of land within the township. Unlike solar farms that utilise solar panels, the facility was to have comprised of fifty-four 17 meter high solar thermal towers which would be around the same height as the standard rural windmill. An estimated 8000 reflective mirrors called heliostats covering 60,000 square metres would reflect and concentrate sunlight onto the towers containing blocks made of a graphite thermal storage medium. Water would then be pumped through these blocks to create steam which generates electricity via turbines.

The graphite blocks in the planning, have the capacity to store the equivalent of 80,000 kWh of energy to generate electricity. The graphite continues to store heat through the night, so electricity can be generated 24 hours a day; allowing the township of 2,400 to become fully powered by solar energy. Ergon Energy, the company in charge of the local supply, was to purchase the power generated to supply the Cloncurry community.

According to the project developer, Lloyd Energy Storage, all water used in the system is reclaimed and very little topping up will need to be done each year. There will also be rainwater storage tanks on site to capture runoff from buildings at the facility with a capacity to store up to 200,000 litres.

Over 100 jobs were to be created during the construction period, scheduled to commence in 2009. The Queensland government promised to contribute $7 million to the project, with the remaining $24 million coming from Lloyd Energy Storage and its financiers.

Lloyds have been conducting a feasibility study since 2007. They say that its steam system uses a once-through steam generator method combined with a air-cooled condensor and turbine. All water used is treated and recycled back through the system. The deal sealer though seemed to be Lloyd’s energy storage system which could store thermal energy at the point of collection and bank it before its conversion

into electricity in theory an efficient method. For instance, cloudy days and darkness would cause no blackouts or down time as the system would continue to trickle energy back into the grid. The storage system (Lloyd’s invention by Bob Lloyd, an Aussie scientist) works equally well in storing energy from wave power and wind power and graphite (the writing part of a pencil, essentially!) is the key. Lloyd says it has developed and patented a low-cost method of refining low quality graphite to create high quality crystalline graphite for the manufacture and use in the graphite heat storage block.

However, the project, the subject of so much enthusiasm in 2007 has not yet been completed. It is not totally stalled. Lloyd’s website is inactive and links only to a PR email address. How sad is that? Is this just a replay of The Simpson’s Monorail episode? I hope not. I contacted the PR person and the response I received was a polite ‘ the project is commercial in confidence’ (hmmmmm, for a government funded project?) but I was also told that ‘ … it is currently under construction. However all our efforts are at the moment focussed on completing our Lake Cargelligo project. …’. This is the SMEC (Snowy Mountains Engineering Corporation) and there is a massive project there that was supposed to be completed last year. No doubt it was held up by the various floods, fires and drought! Lloyd’s company grew out of that one.

From their website:

Lloyd Energy Systems Pty Ltd has established a project company, L.C. Solar Thermal Pty Ltd, to develop and construct a 3 MW(e) solar thermal power station at Lake Cargelligo in NSW. The power plant will consist of numerous power towers that use an array of solar heliostats to focus sunlight to a graphite block in a central tower. The graphite block will be used as a thermal storage mechanism to deliver power on a continuous basis during operating hours.

Lloyd Energy appointed SMEC to carry out the Engineering, Procurement and Construction Management (EPCM) of the power plant. SMEC will engineer the steam turbine generator (“power island”) complete with all ancillaries; and facilitate electrical network connection to Country Energy substation.

We are now on their mailing list and hope to bring you progress reports. But the technology sounds amazing.

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