The Australian Solar Institute (ASI) has contributed 5.65 million dollars towards three new CSIRO projects aimed at making solar power price comparable with fossil fuel.
The total cost of the projects will be $16 million, which include the development of a large scale solar air turbine, a study into the variability of sunshine on solar networks – solar intermittency – and, perhaps the most exciting in terms of bringing solar into line with conventional energy sources, a thermoelectric generator which is expected to reduce the cost of solar energy by 10 per cent or more.
CSIRO’s Energy Transformed Director, Dr Alex Wonhas, said the funding will further enable Australia’s solar thermal research to remain at a world-class level.
"CSIRO is recognised as a world leader in solar thermal research and, although the projects all differ, each contributes to the ultimate goal of creating solar energy at a cost of 10 to 14 cents per kilowatt hour."
Unlike solar panels that that convert photons into electricity, solar thermoelectric generators collect heat from the sun and convert it into electric current which is then used as an immediate energy supply for solar power stations.
Doctor Wonhas said he welcomed the ASI funding. "The three projects all have an important part to play in solving the solar energy puzzle", he said.
Communities in arid climates would benefit most from breakthroughs in solar air turbine technology as the technology does not require water to run.
Dr Wonhas said understanding the issues surrounding solar intermittency will break down many barriers faced by the energy industry. "In fact, the intermittency study will be the first of its type and will help us understand how the variability of this type of energy effects its integration into Australia’s electricity grid."
A number of energy industry companies and some of the nation’s leading universities are taking part in the studies. "We will have more than 30 scientists, engineers, chemists and technicians demonstrating and developing these important solar projects," said Dr. Wonhas.
The heliostat field is part of CSIRO’s new solar Brayton Cycle project – a solar tower and field that generates electricity from just the air and sun.