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.

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!

Knowledge is Power: an overview of CSIRO Local Energy Systems

KL120222_Energy_LESBrochure_draft3_120717_to print for CEE_Page_1The CSIRO Local Energy Systems team is a group of researchers who want to help you save energy – without noticing you’re doing so.

They’re developing new technologies for use at home or work which can decrease energy costs, and reduce greenhouse gas emissions, all while letting you maintain your lifestyle. The group’s projects include solar technologies – like the solar cooling systems we’ve mentioned here before – and other things, like the Electric Driveway project. That’s an ingenious system where your electric car can help your house cut its power bills and increase local grid stability.

Interest piqued? Read more here by downloading our super-nice new brochure.

Welcome to new ASTRI Director, Dr Manuel Blanco!

Today we announced the new Director for our $87 million Australian solar thermal research initiative (ASTRI): Dr Manuel Blanco.

A picture of Dr Manuel Blanco

Dr Manuel Blanco

Dr Blanco, a world-renowned solar scientist with almost three decades of academic, research and R&D managerial experience, comes to ASTRI from Spain’s National Renewable Energy Centre (CENER), where he was Director of the Solar Thermal Energy Department.

During his career, Dr Blanco has made invaluable contributions to the international solar thermal field – as well as compiling an incredibly impressive CV – and we are very excited to have him on board.

“Australia has one of the best solar resources in the world. It is a natural fit for an international solar thermal research collaboration to use this resource and our expertise to make solar power the cheapest, cleanest energy source it can be.

“We will reduce the cost of solar thermal to just 12 cents a kilowatt hour by 2020 and provide zero-emission energy to people when they need it. It’s a technological leap but we will do it. We are working with the best in the world,” said Dr Blanco. Read the full media release.

We have also updated our ASTRI web page so you can now check out the four major research areas and our partners, take a look:


Wes Stein interview in CSP Today

Wes Stein, manager of CSIRO’s Solar Energy Centre, was interviewed by CSP Today for an article about the new Australian solar thermal research initiative (ASTRI).

It’s a great read, we recommend a look: CSIRO embarks on cost cutting quest.

Hello sunshine! Hot new projects part 1: receivers and heliostats

We’re making solar thermal heliostats and receivers cheaper and work better.

As you may have read in a previous post, a bunch of solar projects were recently given the green light by the Australian Renewable Energy Agency (ARENA). We’re going to run a series of posts on the CSIRO-led projects so you know exactly what some of our scientists will be working on for the next few years. First up… ‘Optimisation of central receivers for advanced power cycles’.

Let’s call this the ‘Lego’ project. We’re pulling apart the most important Lego bricks that make up concentrated solar power (CSP) technology and making them cheaper and work better: the heliostats and the receiver.


We’re breaking down the building blocks of solar to make them better and cheaper. Image: istock

Heliostats (or mirrors) make up the ‘solar field’, they concentrate the sunshine and reflect it onto a receiver (check out the process here).

Our field in Newcastle has 450 heliostats, however some fields have thousands. As you can imagine it is a major cost for a solar power plant and there are still many improvements to be made around field layout, heliostat size, performance and lifecycle. This project will investigate all of these areas to help develop the next generation of ultra low-cost heliostats and field design.

After we reduce the price of heliostats, we move to the receivers. Our receivers need to work efficiently at temperatures exceeding 800 degrees Celsius (that’s about as hot as lava spewing from a volcano), so this is a challenge. We also need to work out the best type of receiver system for the various solar field layouts.

If we can improve the efficiency with which the heliostats and receiver work together, we can reduce the cost of supplying heat to the turbine, which reduces the cost of solar power.

It’s a big job. The project is worth $3.2 million and we’ll be working with Graphite Energy in Australia plus the U.S. Department of Energy’s national laboratories. Hopefully they’re good at playing with Lego.

For more Lego fun, check out CSIRO’s new ship, the Investigator, made of Lego.

Our squeaky clean solar field is CSIRO’s current face on Facebook

Visited our CSIRO Facebook page recently? Solar Field 2, here at our Newcastle site, is currently featured in the banner image on our Facebook site. We promise we won’t let the glamour of being a cover model go to our heads… too much.

If you ♥ science like we do, visit us on Facebook for fun and interesting updates on what CSIRO is up to. After all, our organisation does much more than solar – our areas of interest range from nanomaterials to deep space, and include much of what’s in between – so there’s always something interesting going on. Friend us or like us, and show your support for Australian science that’s making a positive impact on all our lives.

Solar exposures

This photo shows CSIRO’s Solar Field 2, a one megawatt-thermal solar central receiver system, in operation at CSIRO Energy Centre, Newcastle.

Click on an icon below to download the image as a desktop wallpaper for your screen size.

100 facts about Solar at CSIRO: Part 5

To celebrate our 100th blog post, we’ve put together (in no particular order) a list of 100 things you may not know about solar research at CSIRO. In this final section: some blasts from the past, some sports and some reports, and at the end we get a bit meta.

◊  ◊  ◊


Members of the CSIRO Solar Thermal team pose with Prime Minister Gillard in front of Solar Field 2 during its opening ceremony.

  1. Within the solar team we have people with backgrounds in Chemistry, Physics, Geology, Electrical Engineering, Mechanical Engineering, Software Engineering and Chemical Engineering. (There’s a bit of Paper Engineering, too.)
  2. CSIRO solar scientist Professor Andrew Holmes was awarded a Royal Medal this year for his contributions to technologies including organic solar cells.
  3. Research scientist Jacek Jasieniak has just returned from spending a year in the US as a Fullbright Fellow, where he worked with Nobel laureate Professor Alan Heeger on increasing the efficiency of organic photovoltaic cells. Dr Jasieniak is also a former ‘Fresh science’ winner and the subject of a news article titled ‘Aussie Scientists Have Created Printable Frickin’ Lasers’.
  4. Some of our solar team mentor school children in science and engineering through the Scientists in Schools program.
  5. One of CSIRO’s solar engineers is former world champion in a solar-powered sport.

VPS / grid

  1. Twenty locations in the Hunter Region, including residential houses and council sites with rooftop photovoltaics, were involved in CSIRO / LMCC’s Virtual Power Station trial project. Each participating household used a web interface to track their solar panel performance and to see the performance of the whole VPS network.
  2. A CSIRO report has shown that Australia’s energy supply can remain stable and reliable even if a large percentage comes from solar energy or other intermittent sources. The solar intermittency can be managed by increasing grid flexibility and considering options such as energy storage and load control (i.e. switching things on or off, or turning them down for a short time).


  1. Australia’s first reported domestic solar hot water heater was designed and made by CSIRO in 1941.
  2. CSIRO made many improvements to flat-plate solar hot water collectors in the 1980s. Researchers used a 14 kW solar simulator made of mercury-iodide lamps for testing purposes.
  3. A CSIRO / University of Wollongong / NCC pilot study recently discovered that many solar hot water system owners in Australia could ‘supercharge’ their systems by making a few easy changes.

    This photo is from a book called ‘CSIRO Research for Australia: 2 – Energy’, circa 1986

  4. CSIRO has had several projects investigating hydrogen production using solar energy, from the fashionable 80s (above) through to the present day.
  5. All of CSIRO’s solar research papers can be found in the online Research Publications Repository.
  6. The CSIRO Energy Centre in Newcastle has had many visitors including energy ministers or staffers from several different countries, documentary makers including the Discovery Channel and Dick Smith, and thousands of members of the public.

 The blog

  1. Solar@CSIRO was CSIRO’s first blog. Others have followed.
  2. The solar blog has been viewed from 110 countries (and counting).

    The solar blog has been viewed from 110 countries. Hey Greenlanders, come visit us – it’d make our day.

  3. Interesting search terms that have taken people to this blog include ‘solat power’ [sic], ‘photovoltaic cells fancy dress’, ‘solar power puns’, and the slightly surreal ‘how much does a hang glider cost’.
  4. Want to make sure you don’t miss out on the latest news about our energy research? You can subscribe to this blog to be emailed updates – or, for all our energy research, sign up to receive CSIRO’s energy research newsletter ‘Spark’. If you like your media more ‘multi’, you can also subscribe to CSIRO’s podcast and vodcast for general news and features.


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