A brief ray of sunshine in the gloomy reports of impending climate disaster. CSIRO is about to build a new research solar power tower at it's National Solar Energy Centre in Newcastle that uses just the sun's energy and heated air in a Brayton turbine to produce electricity. This is innovative renewable technology - the largest of its type in the world - to combat use of fossil fuels and climate change, to be built and fully operational by March 2011.
Most solar thermal power plants utilise the sun's energy to heat water to steam to turn turbines to make electricity. Often this is problematic as the best places for capturing solar energy are arid environments where water is often scarce. The CSIRO's new solar power tower eliminates use of water and uses air in a Brayton turbine to produce electricity.
The project has received $5million in funding for building and two years research from the Australian Solar Institute (ASI), a Federal Government initiative.
"The new technology will pave the way for solar power of the future - solar power that only requires the sun and air to create electricity," said the Director of CSIRO's Energy Transformed Flagship, Dr Alex Wonhas. "The field will be used to refine the technology in order to make it a cheaper, more efficient energy source that is suitable for many desert locations in Australia, and the world."
"This new facility will allow us to improve our science by using a real-world, operating solar thermal field to test ways to make the process more efficient and reduce the cost of this clean technology." said Dr Alex Wonhas.
The power station facility will consist of around 450 mirrors (heliostats) that will direct solar heat onto a 30 metre high tower to produce super-heated compressed air for a Brayton Cycle turbine. The facility will have a thermal capacity of about one megawatt, with the brayton cycle turbine rated at about 200kw which could provide electricity to about 100 homes.
The heliostat field will cover an area of 4,000 square metres and the tower will operate at temperatures above 900 degrees Celsius.
Research is also being conducted on site in thermal storage techniques, particularly using molten salts. During the day when the facility is producing heat and power, some of the energy would be used for super heating salt which would be stored in tanks and could be utilised overnight or during peak load demand times to drive the turbine generating electricity on demand.
The new solar tower and it's heliostat field will be located next to an existing solar tower field that creates SolarGas - a combination of water and natural gas - at the National Solar Energy Centre site at Newcastle, New South Wales.
SolarGas is a solar thermal technology that combines natural gas and solar energy to boost the efficiency of natural gas by about 25 per cent, which results in reduced emissions when used to produce electricity. The Queensland Government has committed $7.5 million towards the CSIRO SolarGas One project - a 4 megawatt power plant of 5 solar towers and mirror fields which will be the world's first multi-tower solar array system using SolarGas technology.
Australia has been a significant innovator in early research and development of solar technologies particularly during the 1970s, but Government and industry support for commercialisation was sadly lacking with industrial development and commercialisation often going offshore. According to Australia Solar Energy Society chairman John Grimes "Our golden opportunity was in the '70s. We led all solar fields but we squandered it. It's heartbreaking really." he said in this article on Government neglect for the solar power industry from the Courier Mail.
Visit the CSIRO for a 5 minute podcast explaining the innovative nature of this new solar power tower and storage system: Time to shine for CSIRO's new solar thermal field
Takver is a citizen journalist from Melbourne who has been writing on Climate Change issues and protests including Rising Sea Level, Ocean acidification, Environmental and social Impacts since 2004.