Sun sets on the Solar@CSIRO blog

Sunset over Kakadu

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International solar experts focus on Australia

SolarPACES – the ‘United Nations’ of concentrating solar power. The event, where over 20 countries were represented, was recently held at the CSIRO Energy Centre in Newcastle.

It’s one of the biggest international events of the year for solar thermal experts and for the first time it was held in Australia!

SolarPACES symposium attendees viewing CSIRO's solar tower in action.

‘Future’s so bright, I gotta wear shades.’ SolarPACES symposium attendees viewing CSIRO’s solar tower in action.

The SolarPACES (Solar Power and Chemical Energy Systems) executive committee meeting and conference enticed experts from countries including USA, Spain, Germany, France and China. During the event they discussed important solar thermal issues and all the latest developments in the technology, markets and the future of the technology.

CSIRO’s Wes Stein told us, ‘We’re hearing from the experts about their experiences in their different countries, not only around research and technology programs, but also around the measures that have made advancements possible in their country.’

This is important stuff for the future of solar thermal research and technology – to help get this technology operating efficiently and make it more affordable. 

CSIRO’s two solar towers were operating for the visitors during the event as working examples of the technology.

The SolarPACES executive committee and CSIRO's Chief Executive, Dr Megan Clark.

The SolarPACES executive committee and CSIRO’s Chief Executive, Dr Megan Clark, strike a pose at the Newcastle Energy Centre.


An array of PV Professors

We’ve been working with two scientists at the top of the photovoltaics (PV) field – Professor Anders Hagfeldt and Professor Sten-Eric Lindquist.

Both scientists are from Sweden and have travelled to the CSIRO Energy Centre in Newcastle to check out our facilities and work with our photovoltaics team…whilst also enjoying summer in the southern hemisphere.

Professor Anders Hagfeldt and Dr Greg Wilson standing near the titania dye solar array.

Professor Anders Hagfeldt, from Uppsala University, and Solar@CSIRO blogger, Greg Wilson, soaking up the atmosphere in front of the titania dye solar array (part of the CSIRO Energy Centre building).

Not only does he play some mean drums in a band called ‘Fat Cotton‘ but Professor Hegfeldt really knows his dye-sensitised solar cells. He’s one of the top 50 scientists in his field! (Watch our short video on the production of dye-sensitised solar cells).

Professor Sten-Eric Lindquist calibrating lab machinery.

Professor Sten-Eric Lindquist hard at work in the lab.

Professor Sten-Eric Lindquist, from Uppsala University, is working with us in our labs, giving us the benefit of his considerable experience in photovoltaics. Professor Lindquist has been examining the properties of semi-conducting photovoltaic materials.

In a neat twist Professor Lindquist was Professor Hagfeldt’s university supervisor (*cough* some 20 years ago).


Happy Earth Hour!

Greeting the sun and a lovely rosy dawn, our heliostats in formation for Earth Hour (8.30pm, Saturday 23 March).

Solar field in the formation 60+.

The 60 represents the minutes of Earth Hour and the + is all about continuing your energy saving beyond just the hour. Thanks to the Newcastle Herald (29 March 2012) for the pic.

Want some practical energy saving tips? Our energy efficiency expert, Glenn Platt, blogged with The Newcastle Herald recently and answered all your ‘hot’ questions including saving money on your power bills and electric cars for the future.


Hot new projects part 4: Plug and Play solar

And the final post in our series of hot new projects! ‘Plug and Play solar’ is not a new PlayStation game (we wish); it is a project to develop energy management software to manage the various renewable and traditional energy sources a building or site might have.

For example, remote mining operations or towns – like Marble Bar or Hermannsburg – have traditionally been powered by fossil fuels like gas and diesel, but more and more are turning to renewable sources such as solar. Traditionally, it has been up to the system operator to decide when to use which sources. This is often not as easy as it sounds, mostly because of the variable nature of renewable energy sources. Often this means that fossil fuel backup systems are left running just in case a cloud might pass or wind might drop – not the most fuel-efficient solution. What would really help would be an automated system able to intelligently handle multiple fossil and renewable sources.

CSIRO is working on the answer.

Hermannsburg in the Northern Territory.

Remote communities like Hermannsburg in the Northern Territory, which are powered by a mixture of renewable and fossil fuel sources, could benefit from the Plug and Play technology. Image source: Solar Systems

Plug and Play is a system where a user can ‘plug’ in the various sources and the system automatically and intelligently ‘plays’, or works out what source to use, when to use and how it should be used. You tell the system what your top priorities are – minimising diesel usage, lowering maintenance costs, or maximising power availability, for example – and it will make the best decisions about when to schedule the diesel generator, when to make the most of the solar panels and when to charge the batteries.

The tool will also be invaluable when designing new remote area power supplies. It’ll help to choose the best mixture of energy technologies for the site’s needs and decide how to size them. And then, instead of needing to have custom hardware and software designed to manage that unique mix, the Plug and Play system will help do it for you.

Senior project scientist Dr John Ward says it’s in the commissioning phase of these power systems that some of the most significant benefits will be seen. “Reducing the need for ‘on the ground’ engineers will be an important outcome,” he told the solar blog. “Currently each is different and unique and needs considerable specialised and costly engineering.”

This project is also expected to have flow-on effects that’ll benefit more than just remote towns. “Next stop would be rural areas, specifically with SWER (single-wire earth return) power lines,” Dr Ward says. “Such areas only have a very ‘weak’ connection to the grid, so they face similar issues to the islanded systems being targeted for this project.

“Our team believes that as the electricity grid evolves to have more interplay between consumer demand and resource availability, there’ll be a role for Plug and Play type systems to become mainstream in every part of the electricity grid.”

A remote site.

Benefits of the technology could flow on from remote locations to play a more mainstream role in the grid. Image: AdelaideNow

It’s no easy feat however. The project is worth over $2.9 million and will take several years to complete. We’re working with ABB Australia, the United States’ National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL).

The first phase of the project will involve the development of the technology and the second phase will see pilot systems set up in both the United States and Australia. The final product will be a cost effective, retrofit system that can be easily installed, without the need for expert labour. We think it will ultimately be of benefit to thousands of remotely based residents.

The project is one of four projects announced in December 2013 as part of the Australian Renewable Energy Agency and United States-Australia Solar Energy (USAEC) Collaboration. It builds on our existing expertise in areas including solar intermittency, customer load management, the virtual power station, mini grid planning, and the work we’ve done on Australian standards for inverter energy systems and load control.

Check out the factsheet for more information.


Journalist wowed by our ‘hot stuff’

The first reaction Newcastle Herald journalist Greg Ray had when he was invited to tour our site was ‘oh yeah, ho hum.’

Turns out, though, that it didn’t take our energy researchers long to get him excited about what we do. Read his article for his thoughts on some of the projects here at CSIRO Energy Technology including the pulverised coal engine, solar air conditioning, and SolarGas.

If your interest has been piqued too, check out our previous blog posts on solar cooling and SolarGas. And if you’d like to tour the site yourself, why not check the available dates and get in touch?


Hot new projects part 3: taking SolarGas to north west Australia

We’re helping remote industry look forward to more power with fewer emissions, thanks to the sun.

This is our third post in the ‘Hot new projects’ series, where we’ve been featuring recently announced CSIRO-led projects funded by the Australian Solar Institute (now part of ARENA).

In the north west of Australia mining activity is expanding very rapidly. Often it’s happening in remote areas – in towns like Nullagine, which is as far away from the nearest city as London is from Warsaw. Large mining operations need a lot of power, and since many are in places with no connection to the electricity grid they have traditionally relied on what power they can generate from diesel or gas.

While today’s power sources like diesel engines and simple gas turbines are cost effective, they are not environmentally sustainable. Transporting the fuel to remote areas not only increases the cost, but also increases the carbon footprint of the fuel.

Many mines are located where there's abundant solar energy. We're hoping to put some of it to use. [Image: Norwich Park Mine via AFR]

Many mines are located where there’s abundant solar energy. We’re hoping to put some of it to use. [Image: Norwich Park Mine via AFR]

To help out, CSIRO and our partners are investigating ways to make this power generation more environmentally sustainable, and we’re using the region’s most abundant natural resource – sunlight.

In this project, CSIRO and our partner GE will be designing a new gas-powered remote power station, suited to north west Australian conditions, where the natural gas gets a renewable energy ‘boost’ before it goes to the turbine. This boost happens in a solar-driven chemical reaction that upgrades the natural gas into a product called syngas. This solar-enhanced syngas, which we call SolarGas™, contains 25% more energy than the original gas – all of which has come from the heat of the sun. We walked through the process (and showed you photos of our test facility with its field of focusing mirrors) in an earlier blog post SolarGas: what’s it all about?

A solar field like this one at CSIRO in Newcastle can add energy from the sun to natural gas. This could help remote towns and outback mines save money and reduce emissions.

A solar field like this one at CSIRO in Newcastle can add energy from the sun to natural gas. This could help remote towns and outback mines save money and reduce emissions.

The sun-enhanced gas now passes to the turbine as usual, where it creates electricity. The ‘waste’ heat from this process is then harnessed to power a second turbine – a steam turbine – which creates extra electricity.

This two-turbine daisy chain, known as a combined cycle power station, is already frequently used for electricity generation. Our design will add the solar stage in the most efficient way, and model the system to see how it performs and what it’ll cost. We expect that adding solar will reduce overall cost, as well as lowering emissions.

The project will be the first time that a combined cycle power station is integrated with the SolarGas™ process in a detailed model. We hope this project will provide a stepping stone to the construction of demonstration plants in the Australian Outback.

The project, worth $700,000, will utilise CSIRO expertise in solar thermal technology and solar syngas reactors in partnership with world leaders in power station technology, GE Australia and the GE Global Research Centre in the United States.

You can read an interview with the project leader, CSIRO’s Robbie McNaughton, in the January issue of the Pilbara Echo.

The ultimate result of this work will be the use of less fossil fuel, for more power, with reduced emissions. That’s good for industry, and good for the environment!


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