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.

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.

(Nothing we can do…) a total eclipse of the sun

There’s one type of solar intermittency that we can forecast well into the future. It’s a solar eclipse, and one was visible from parts of Australia for a brief period yesterday morning.

As with the Transit of Venus, many CSIRO staff took the chance to check out and photograph this unusual event. John Smith from CSIRO Animal, Food and Health Sciences got a great shot with his SLR of the maximum eclipse as seen from Brisbane.

Photo: John Smith using Nikon D7000 / Nikkor AF 70-300mm with custom Baader Astrozap filter. That’s one awesomely named filter.

Karl Weber, an engineer who works in CSIRO’s flexible electronics lab, got a different kind of eclipse photo in his Melbourne home. This one shows his son with the sun – a series of crescent-shaped suns, actually – projected through holes in venetian blinds and onto the wall.

Did you realise before now that the ‘dapples’ in dappled light are round only because the sun is round? A partial eclipse helps illuminate this fact.

Here in Newcastle we had grand plans to photograph our solar fields reflecting light from the partially eclipsed sun. Unfortunately, our plans were thwarted by cloud. Check back here on the blog in a few months time – we hope to have more luck when it all happens again in May.


Addendum: Robert Hollow from CSIRO Astronomy and Space Science took some stunningly beautiful photos of the full eclipse. See them and read his description of events in a dedicated post on our sister blog site, News@CSIRO.

Be our guest in Newcastle this Thursday

Recent aerial photograph of the CSIRO Energy Technology site in Mayfield West, with the two solar thermal fields visible at top right.

Are you able to get to Newcastle this Thursday? Then why not come and visit our Energy Centre for yourself! A few spaces are still vacant for our next visitors’ day on 15 November, so if you’re interested in having a tour of our energy efficient buildings, solar fields and more, get your application in quickly. Our site is only open to the public four times a year, so don’t miss out.

Applications are available from the website here. Previous tours have had great feedback, so don’t miss your chance.

See tomorrow’s scientists in battle today

Image courtesy of Science and Engineering Challenge (with permission)

To reign as the national champions of the Science and Engineering Challenge, one of eight schools will have to excel today at a whole lot of different competitive tasks. Will they be designing and building the most rugged Martian Rover, the strongest and lightest bridge, the furthest reaching catapult, the most manoeuvrable airship, or something even more challenging? The precise line-up of activities is a closely guarded secret – but only for another hour or so, when the national finals begin in Geelong.

Right now, the finalists are limbering up their prefrontal cortices in preparation for battle – and this year, you can watch the competition in real-time. Tune into the Live Video Webcast at 9.20 am (Australian Eastern Daylight Savings time) for the introduction, and 2 pm for the nail-biting grand finale.

The Science and Engineering Challenge is a program run from the University of Newcastle with support from Australian Rotary Districts and other sponsors. It aims to show school students that science and engineering are about creativity, problem solving and team work – and it has been shown to encourage students to continue with studies in science and mathematics.

CSIRO Energy Technology has often been a proud supporter of our local events and we wish the competitors well in this year’s final. Go teams!

100th blog post

The CSIRO Solar blog has made it to 100 posts, and we’ve celebrated it by doing what we do best: harvesting power from the sun.

Photovoltaics research scientist Greg Wilson fabricated this dye sensitised solar cell in CSIRO’s Newcastle lab and I think you’ll agree it’s a pretty great way to commemorate our achievement and show off the technology at the same time.

Click through the pictures below for more details of the fabrication process.

We plan to show you this process in more detail in future posts of the blog.

We’ll also be posting ’100 facts about solar at CSIRO’ over these next few weeks, so keep an eye out for them.

Solar Field 2 celebrates its first birthday

Exactly one year ago Solar Field 2, CSIRO’s newest concentrating solar thermal facility, was opened by Prime Minister Julia Gillard. In the twelve months since, we’ve achieved a lot including successful operation of a new high-temperature receiver and demonstration of our improved heliostat design.

The next year is going to be a productive one, too, with no less than three new projects already underway for future installation on the tower – a new type of SolarGas reactor, an air turbine to be coupled to the existing receiver, and a new receiver for experiments and testing.

To celebrate the anniversary, I’ve put together a slideshow of images from the field’s construction, opening and first year. Click below to start.

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CSIRO watches the Transit of Venus

CSIRO’s a big organisation – it has 56 sites in Australia and overseas. But I’d guess that at most of them people engaged in the same activity at some stage today – watching the Transit of Venus.

Below is a gallery of images from our staff around the country. Enjoy.

And if you were clouded in? I hope you were able to catch one of the live streams on-line. Alternatively – for a more philosophical approach – remind yourself that clouds aren’t that bad anyway, really.

What’s in space, looks like Cindy Crawford’s mole, and is happening tomorrow for the last time in your life?

The transit of Venus. Image: Gestrgangleri / Wikimedia Commons

It’s the transit of Venus of course, and – clouds permitting – we’ll all be outside taking a look through eclipse glasses.

The event starts (for us in Newcastle) tomorrow morning at 8:16, when the silhouette of Venus starts to move in front of the sun, and it ends at 2:45 pm. You can check viewing times for your location here. Once it’s over, it won’t happen for another 105 years.

Want to know more? Read these articles on The Conversation about the significance of the transit, how it’s linked to much more than astronomy, such as how kangaroos and banksias got the names they did, and how it played a part in Australia becoming part of the Commonwealth.

How NOT to view the transit of Venus, or, “A Blind Date in the Park”. (Image from Harper’s Weekly magazine, April 28, 1883)

And of course, DO NOT LOOK DIRECTLY AT THE SUN when viewing the transit! Use eclipse glasses, a shade 14 welding mask, follow the instructions on this CSIRO page to build your own solar viewer, or check out this page for several other techniques. Protect your eyes!

And if your ears feel left out, you can even listen to John Philip Sousa’s Transit of Venus March while watching the event.

(A shout-out to @brainpicker for the title.)

‘Are you working on ways to harvest lightning?’ – and other great questions from the Energy Centre Visitors Day

Image by Catalin.Fatu via Wikipedia Commons

There’s a lot of energy in them thar clouds. Image: Catalin.Fatu via Wikipedia Commons.


When you play host to a hundred curious visitors, some interesting questions are sure to come up. This was definitely the case recently when we ran public tours of the CSIRO Energy Centre that started with a cuppa, progressed through our energy-saving buildings and ended with an elevated view over the solar thermal fields.

The guides – engineer Dan L, site communications guru Keirissa and myself – were kept on our toes with questions that ranged from the detailed (‘Which way does the electricity run in a fuel cell?’) to the conceptual (‘What do you think shapes people’s attitudes to renewables?’). We did our best to answer what we could, and we hope everyone left with a bit more understanding of the technologies that are being developed here in Newcastle.

Oh, and by the way, we aren’t researching ways to use lightning energy  – but the person who asked clearly has the same kind of outside-the-square thinking as the scientists and engineers that thought up the tree-powered sensor network, vibration-harvesting clothing, and fridges that talk to each other – all of which are projects from our Newcastle site.

If you or someone you know would like to visit the Energy centre, the dates of upcoming tours and application forms are available at Energy Centre visitors for 2012. The next one’s on August 9 – which should give you plenty of time to think up some interesting questions.

Were you one of our visitors on Thursday? Please leave a comment and give us your feedback!


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