On the 28th of September, 2016, South Australia experienced a statewide blackout that left 1.6 million residents without a supply of electricity. While the first emergency response involved the immediate restoration of power, the political response has been directed more toward the systematic provision of energy. On the table were issues of energy security, accessibility, and sources. Two years later, SolarReserve, a Californian-based renewable energy company, has received South Australian state approval to begin construction of Aurora: the world’s largest thermal solar power plant.
In late 2016, the South Australian Labor government announced that it was searching for a long-term contract with an energy provider. The following summer, SolarReserve received approval to begin construction, along with a $110 million (AUD) concessional Federal equity loan. South Australian Premier Jay Weatherill described SolarReserve’s proposal as the lowest-cost option, which “beat all bids,” including ones from competitive pro-fossil fuel companies, according to SolarReserve CEO, Kevin Smith. Aurora will cost $650 million and will generate 500-gigawatt hours of energy per year, providing power to approximately 90,000 homes across South Australia.
Aurora will be situated in Port Augusta where Premier Weatherill said the large amounts of sunlight and proximity to a transmission network were optimal. Aurora is able to reliably produce on-demand energy throughout both day and night, which is realized by SolarReserve’s 1100 megawatt-hours energy storage unit.
This landmark in Australian and global energy development provides benefits across a plethora of areas. While decreasing energy prices due to increased supply, Premier Weatherill expects downward pressures on electricity prices prior to completion as competing operators begin factoring in the plant now. SolarReserve has estimated that the project will create 4,000 jobs, indirectly and directly, with another 50 workers for operation once completed.
Australian environmentalists and political proponents are applauding this American partnership as it contributes to the shift of Australia’s energy base away from fossil fuels to renewable energy. This transfer of world-class technology conveys the intimate positioning of American companies in the process of structural energy reform in Australia.
Toby Warden is an intern at the East-West Center in Washington D.C. and a student at the University of Sydney in Australia.