Solar Powered Eco Hub Proposed For Karratha

Producing food from the desert with solar energy

Image: Sahara Forest Project

Western Australia’s City of Karratha has provided in-principle support for three business proposals that could see land at the site of Karratha Airport transformed into an eco-hub.

The Karratha Airport land reserve proposed for use is surplus to long-term airport planning requirements.

One of the proposed enterprises is the Sahara Forest Project that aims to produce fresh water, food and renewable energy through utilising seawater and harnessing energy from the sun.

Among the core components of the project are saltwater-cooled and humidified greenhouses that enable year-round cultivation of high-value vegetable crops. Another core aspect is the use of concentrated solar power (CSP), where mirrors concentrate the sun’s energy to produce heat that is used to create steam to drive a turbine that generates electricity.

“In the Sahara Forest Project, seawater-cooled greenhouses and CSP-technology are linked together so that the water-thirsty cooling towers of a typical CSP plant are replaced with a seawater cooling system that utilizes the greenhouse roofs to dissipate the waste heat from the CSP process,” says Norway-based SFP.

A similar project is already successfully operating in Australia – Sundrop Farms in Port Augusta, South Australia. Sundrop Farms harnesses the sun’s energy to produce freshwater from seawater for irrigation and electricity to power its greenhouses. A ventilation system using seawater, which is reused, assists with greenhouse cooling.

Australian company Ecomag’s project is also under consideration for the site. Ecomag intends producing low cost, high purity magnesium compounds from brine waste streams from large scale salt production processes and solar energy.

The third potential project is associated with Rainstorm, a dust control company that has been operating since 1990.

According to City of Karratha Mayor Peter Long, a solar power plant of up to 20MW capacity could be built as part of these projects.

“It is exciting that these companies are interested in establishing here and the fact that they are looking at land managed by Council means we can play an even greater facilitative role in helping them get set up,” said Cr. Long. “Having these projects set up in the City of Karratha would not only diversify industry but also create additional jobs and increase the sustainability of our local economy”.

Council says local fertiliser company YARA Pilbara is also considering the reserve as the site of a future project and would investigate utilising electricity generated by the potential solar farm at its Burrup site.

The Karratha Airport area is also the site of Karratha Airport Solar Farm, a 1MW facility opened last year that features Cloud Predictive Technology (CPT). The CPT system smooths out energy generation and reduces battery storage requirements.

In addition to the solar farm, there are also 271 small scale solar power systems installed in Karratha’s postcode (6714) according to Clean Energy Regulator data, with a collective capacity of 1.15 megawatts.

About Michael Bloch

Michael caught the solar power bug after purchasing components to cobble together a small off-grid PV system in 2008. He's been reporting on Australian and international solar energy news ever since.

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