Australian solar technology will help China reach energy targets

CSIRO's solar thermal research facility in Newcastle (storage)
CSIRO's solar thermal research facility in Newcastle

Australia’s solar heliostat technology will be used for concentrating solar thermal electricity generation in China.

CSIRO has partnered with Chinese company Thermal Focus, following China’s announcement to produce 1.4GW of CST by 2018, and 5GW by 2020, which would double the world’s installed CST plants.

Thermal Focus will be able to manufacture, market, sell and install CSIRO’s low-cost heliostats, field control software and design software in China, with a shared revenue stream back to Australia to fund further climate mitigation research.

CSIRO chief executive Dr Larry Marshall said he was proud of CSIRO Energy’s solar thermal technology team and their innovative science for the contribution it is making to support Australia’s mitigation R&D.

“Australia is a leader in clean energy technology and CSIRO’s partnership with China’s Thermal Focus takes our climate mitigation focus to a global stage,” Dr Marshall said.

“This is another great example of all four pillars of our Strategy 2020 in action; using excellent science to deliver breakthrough innovation, and through global collaboration, increasing renewable energy deliverables.

“Through this collaboration and our continued solar research, we will be helping to generate cleaner energy, cost savings and technology export benefits for Australia; all lowering global greenhouse gas emissions.”

Solar thermal technology uses a field of computer-controlled mirrors (heliostats) that accurately reflect and concentrate sunlight onto a receiver on top of a tower.

The concentrated sunlight may then be used to heat and store hot molten salt, which can generate superheated steam to drive a turbine for electricity generation.

An advantage of this system is the very low cost of storing thermal energy, giving CST technology great potential for medium to large-scale solar power, even when the sun isn’t shining.

A heliostat field can represent up to 40 per cent of the total plant cost so low cost, high precision heliostats are a crucial component.

CSIRO’s unique design features smaller than conventional heliostats, and uses an advanced control system to get high performance from a cost-effective design.

Thermal Focus’ Wei Zhu welcomed the collaboration with CSIRO.

“CSIRO’s solar thermal technology combined with our manufacturing capability will help expedite and deliver solar thermal as an important source of renewable energy in China,” Mr Zhu said.

“This partnership will help us commercialise this emerging technology on a larger scale.”

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