A solar energy facility in Australia has proved that solar power could replace fossil fuels at power stations.
A CSIRO solar thermal test plant located in Newcastle, Australia is the first in the world to generate “supercritical” steam, and made alternative energy news by proving that power produced from the sun’s heat could be an efficient fossil fuel replacement.
CSIRO claims that the solar-generated supercritical steam it has achieved a world record.
The facility has produced supercritical steam at 1,058 degrees Fahrenheit (570 degrees Celsius) and at a pressure of 23.5 MPa (megapascals) or 3400 psi. This is a massive step for solar energy. The steam is utilized to power the most advanced power plant turbines in the world. What makes this breakthrough so impressive is that prior to this achievement, it had only been possible to generate the steam through the burning of fossil fuels, like gas or coal.
A field of over 600 heliostats is used by the facility. A heliostat is an apparatus that features a driven or movable mirror and is utilized to reflect light from the sun in a set direction. The heliostats at CSIRO’s energy center are directed at two towers that house turbines and solar receivers.
CSIRO Energy Director Dr Alex Wonhas said, “It’s like breaking the sound barrier; this step change proves solar has the potential to compete with the peak performance capabilities of fossil fuel sources.” Wonhas added that instead of having to rely on burning fossil fuels to create supercritical steam, what has been discovered “demonstrates that the power plants of the future could instead be using the free, zero emission energy of the sun to achieve the same result.”
This alternative energy advancement demonstrates how research and development are of great importance.
Although it will still be some time before this solar energy technology will be ready for commercialization, what has been discovered is a vital step toward a sustainable and greener future.
With support from the Australian Renewable Energy Agency (ARENA), CSIRO and Abengoa Solar are working on the development of advanced solar storage that will provide solar-generated electricity at any time of the day or night. The alternative energy research program is an estimated US$5.3 million.