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Solar strides in Aus: Lessons for Africa?

Solar strides in Aus: Lessons for Africa?

Oct 15, 2014

According to a report by Sciencealert.com.au,  a solar thermal test plant in Newcastle, Australia, has generated “supercritical” steam at a pressure of 23.5 MPa (3400 psi) and 570°C (1,058°F).  The Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation (CSIRO) is claiming it as a world record, and it’s a huge step for solar thermal energy.

In an interview with Colin Jeffrey for Gizmag, CSIRO’s 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.”

The Energy Centre uses a field of more than 600 mirrors (known as heliostats) which are all directed at two towers housing solar receivers and turbines, according to the Gizmag report. This supercritical steam is used to drive the world’s most advanced power plant turbines, but previously it’s only been possible to produce it by burning fossil fuels such as coal or gas.

“Instead of relying on burning fossil fuels to produce supercritical steam, this breakthrough 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,” Dr Wonhas said.

Commercial solar thermal or concentrating solar power plants only operate a “subcritical” levels, using less pressurised steam, meaning that they’ve never been able to match the output or efficiency of the world’s best fossil fuel power plants – until now.

The commercial development of this technology is still a fair way off, but this is an important first step towards a more sustainable future. As Africa continues to burn fossil fuels at high levels and still suffer electricity shortages, it may be time to look to Australia for solar solutions and use our year-round sunshine.

Full story, pics and video here

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