CSIRO solar technologies are helping to power Japan and lower the country’s emissions.
Solar is a reliable, stable power source that will be key to Australia’s low-emissions future and CSIRO is pioneering low-emission technologies that create value for industry and households and provide the knowledge which will help guide us towards a smart, secure energy future.
CSIRO leads the way in the development of low-cost, environmentally friendly production methods and flexible materials that could change how and where photovoltaic energy can be generated.
They are developing new technologies and systems which use solar thermal energy to provide low emission cooling – or heating – for buildings and refrigeration for food storage.
CSIRO also leads the way in concentrated solar thermal (CST) research, specialising in high-temperature central receiver systems.
CSIRO’S SOLAR THERMAL RESEARCH
Solar thermal technology uses a field of mirrors (heliostats) whose angle is under computer control, each of which rotates accurately to reflect and concentrate sunlight onto a receiver on top of a tower. This central receiver system, sometimes called a ‘power tower,’ harnesses the heat of the sun – often at temperatures of many hundreds of degrees. In this application, the concentrated sunlight is used to create superheated steam, which can then be used to drive a turbine for generating electricity, or to drive other industrial processes.
Energy can be stored cheaply as heat in solar thermal systems, giving this technology great potential for medium to large scale power, even when the sun isn’t shining. While many commercial solar thermal power stations are already in operation overseas, much research still needs to be done on lowering the cost of this technology.
CSIRO is aiming to make electricity from CSP competitive with fossil fuel-generated in electricity in Australia, and is furthering this research through the Australian Solar Thermal Research Initiative (ASTRI).
CSIRO’s national energy research centre in Newcastle contains the only high temperature solar thermal research facility of its type in Australia and is home to the largest highconcentration solar array in the Southern Hemisphere. The CSIRO heliostat design is unique. It is smaller than conventional heliostats, and uses an advanced control system to get high performance from a relatively inexpensive design.
The site has two high concentration solar thermal tower facilities: Solar Fields 1 & 2. Both fields are operated from an elevated control room housing the centre’s communications and control systems. Each field contains a power tower and a heliostat (mirrors) array which tracks the sun throughout the day, concentrating the solar heat to produce temperature in excess of 1000º Celsius (C).
These demonstration and research facilities are used for:
- SolarGas – demonstrating how solar energy can ‘supercharge’ natural gas
- solar air turbine research and demonstration – generating electricity from the sun and air
- high-temperature solar steam research – combining solar power with the energy industry’s most state-of-the-art turbines
- energy storage: showing how solar power can still be used when cloudy or after dark.
In 2014, a team of CSIRO solar thermal engineers and scientists used solar thermal techniques to create what’s called ‘supercritical’ steam (an ultra-hot, ultra-pressurised steam that’s used to drive the world’s most advanced power plant turbines) at the highest levels of temperature and pressure ever recorded with solar power. This achievement holds many possible technological and economic implications for the future of solar thermal technology, and demonstrates that the power plants of the future could be using the zero emission energy of the sun to reach peak efficiency levels – and at a cheaper price.
CASE STUDY: AUSTRALIAN SOLAR SHINES ON JAPAN
CSIRO’s solar technology is helping Japan reduce its carbon dioxide emissions and giving a boost to the Australian car industry at the same time.
Reducing carbon emissions in Japan
Japan is aiming to increase the percentage of its power that is generated from renewable sources. To achieve this, the Japanese Ministry of Environment provided a grant to Mitsubishi Hitachi Power Systems (MHPS), to “develop and verify technologies for enhancing measures to reduce carbon dioxide emissions”.
Shining solar expertise on Yokohama
MHPS is using CSIRO solar thermal technology to establish a field of 150 heliostats in Yokohama for running research projects. It is the second international deployment of CSIRO’s solar thermal technology, following on from a similar project in Cyprus.
Driving the diversification of the Australian car industry
In addition to helping with Japan’s renewable energy requirements, the project is also a welcome boost to the car industry, with the our heliostats being constructed by a South Australian manufacturing company actively coping with the downturn in the automotive industry. Heliostat SA was created with the support of four South Australian companies: Precision Components, a company heavily involved in the car industry; The University of South Australia; May Brothers and Enersalt.
CSIRO’s Energy and Resources Executive Director Dr Alex Wonhas said the two projects were a strong vote of confidence for the science agency’s solar capabilities.
“These projects are the fruits of more than a decade of solar thermal research emanating from our energy centre in Newcastle and demonstrate the growing worldwide appetite for concentrated solar power,” he said.
“To have CSIRO’s heliostats selected by MHPS, a global leader in energy, proves that our technology is up there with the best in the world. Our successful collaboration with Heliostat SA also shows the benefits of science working closely with industry to create value for the Australian economy.”
Former Minister for Industry and Science Ian Macfarlane visited the plant operated by Heliostat SA at Beverley, in Adelaide’s western suburbs. The Australian Government provided $1 million of matched funding from its Automotive Diversification Programme to Precision Components which enabled the car manufacturer to diversify into renewable energy.
For more information on CSIRO’s solar research, visit: www.csiro.au/en/Research/EF/Areas/Solar