Australian concentrating solar demo plant sets solar heat record

A CSIRO-developed Australian solar thermal project has achieved what is being described as a game-changing breakthrough, demonstrating the technology’s potential to compete with modern coal-fired plants.

The CSIRO Energy Centre in Newcastle has revealed this week that its solar thermal demonstration project, developed in partnership with Spanish solar giant Abengoa, had generated the world’s highest temperature steam ever produced using energy from the sun. By concentrating light from 600 mirrors into receiver towers where water is heated to produce steam that drives turbines, the project demonstrated it could achieve steam temperatures of up to 570°C and pressure of 23.5 megapascals.

“Achieving the critical combination of high pressure and high temperature is a giant step,” said ARENA CEO Ivor Frischknecht on Tuesday. “It demonstrates solar energy has the potential to effectively power the steam turbines currently used by advanced coal-fired plants.”

CSIRO’s energy director, Alex Wonhas, said the breakthrough demonstrated that, instead of relying on burning fossil fuels to produce supercritical steam, “the power plants of the future could instead be using the free, zero-emission energy of the sun to achieve the same result.”

The $5.7 million project (to which ARENA contributed $2.8 million) is part of a broader collaboration with Abengoa to advance solar storage and deliver renewable electricity around the clock. Project leader Robbie McNaughton says his team now plans to do more testing, under even more extreme conditions, to see how far they can push the technology.

Spain’s Abengoa – which broke ground on its 110MW solar thermal and molten salt plant in Chile last month – last week predicted that solar tower technology with storage would be competitive with baseload gas generation by 2020, and able to perform similar functions without the emissions.

Top image via Abengoa

© 2014 Solar Choice Pty Ltd

Giles Parkinson