Sunny future for Australia’s solar industry

By October 26th, 2010

CSIRO will today begin installing 450 large mirrors, called heliostats, for Australia’s largest solar-thermal tower system at the CSIRO National Solar Energy Centre in Newcastle, New South Wales.

The heliostats are part of an advanced new solar technology developed by CSIRO and manufactured by Central Coast company, Performance Engineering Group.

By developing such technology CSIRO aims to make solar generated electricity at the same cost or cheaper than fossil fuel generated electricity when the cost of carbon is taken into account.

Creating 2.4 x 1.8m panels of glass mirrors for a solar field is no easy feat. The glass needs to be a specific concave shape to achieve a highly accurate reflection point and strong enough to withstand extreme weather events.

Once installed, the heliostats will concentrate the sun’s rays to create temperatures of up to 1000°C.

Once installed, the heliostats will concentrate the sun’s rays to create temperatures of up to 1000°C.

The heliostats have a lightweight steel frame with a unique, simple design, specially created for mass production for the commercial market. The units are smaller than many heliostats currently being used around the world, but just as efficient, more cost effective and much easier to install.

CSIRO’s Energy Transformed Flagship Director, Dr Alex Wonhas, says the economical design of the heliostats will also make solar fields more cost effective to build and operate.

“It’s a local idea generated by CSIRO and manufactured by a local company, which will have global impact,” Dr Wonhas said.

“We hope that one day we will see these economical heliostats used in solar fields all over Australia and the world.”

Performance Engineering’s Managing Director, Jon Priddle, says high quality heliostats will one day be mass-produced in Australia.

“We have a unique capability at Performance,” Mr Priddle said. “We are using our expertise in automotive manufacturing – an industry geared for mass production – to create the most efficient manufacturing process.

“In addition, we are using a laser tracker developed for the aerospace industry to measure the accuracy of the heliostats. Accuracy and efficiency are the key outcomes for our production line.”

The heliostat field is part of CSIRO’s new solar Brayton Cycle project – a solar tower and field that generates electricity from just the air and sun.

This project has been supported by the Australian Government through the Australian Solar Institute (ASI) – part of the Clean Energy Initiative.

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