SkyFuel executives believe they will reach grid parity by 2015. That means their concentrated solar power system will cost the same amount as typical fossil fuel energy generation.

A Colorado company has found a way to make concentrated solar power easier and faster to install while reducing the cost. With continued improvements over the next three years, SkyFuel executives believe they will reach grid parity by 2015. That means their concentrated solar power system will cost the same amount as typical fossil fuel energy generation.

Rick LeBlanc, CEO of SkyFuel, explained that concentrated solar power is a smart, efficient way to generate ‘round-the-clock power. “For us, think of the half pipe,” LeBlanc said to describe the look of concentrated solar power troughs. “We capture the sun’s energy and then focus it by a factor of 75.”

The concentrated sun heats a liquid to 750 degrees that generates steam and powers turbines just like a coal-fired energy plant does. That thermal heat can be stored and used even after the sun goes down. “We’re very versatile,” LeBlanc said. “We can retrofit a standard coal plant.”

CSP uses space more efficiently than solar photovoltaic panels, LeBlanc said, in that troughs on 250 acres can generate 50 megawatts of electricity, enough to power 10,000 homes.

Huge utility-scale Concentrated Solar Plants are going in all over the world, pushing the limits of what we thought solar could do. There are several 100-megawat plants going in throughout the American Southwest and numerous other and even bigger projects in the planning stages.

LeBlanc casually asserted that SkyFuel’s particular system is probably the smartest way to build concentrated solar. Concentrated solar power typically relies on heavy glass mirrors to concentrate the sun’s energy.

The technology that sets SkyFuel apart is its use of ReflecTech Mirror Film, a reflective film than can be adhered to aluminum sheets and slipped into the trough frames on site at concentrated solar power farms. It takes just a few minutes to slip the sheets into the frames. They’re shatter proof, flexible and light. They’re also significantly less expensive to produce than glass mirrors, according to SkyFuel promotional materials. The company, founded in 2007, has an installation in Colorado and contracts around the world.

SkyFuel, Inc. is a solar thermal power technology and service provider founded in 2007. SkyFuel solar collectors harness solar radiation to produce steam for electricity generation and industrial applications. The Company is a leading supplier of utility-scale concentrating solar power (CSP) systems. SkyFuel currently offers an advanced, glass-free parabolic trough solar thermal collector, called the SkyTrough®. It is the highest performance, lowest-cost utility-scale solar power system in the world.

SkyFuel’s wholly owned subsidiary, ReflecTech Inc., holds an exclusive world-wide license for a high-reflectance silverized polymer film, called ReflecTech® Mirror Film. This film is for use as a mirror surface, primarily in solar technologies such as the SkyTrough®. ReflecTech® is the only high-reflectance mirror film proven for outdoor applications.

The SkyFuel team comprises highly motivated and experienced professionals with backgrounds in solar and conventional power, finance, energy markets, and environmental protection.

SkyFuel owns and operates a state of the art manufacturing facility, featuring high volume fabrication cells for their proprietary mirror panels and precision parabolic ribs. The facility is capable of producing components for 50 MWe of SkyTroughs each year, and can easily be expanded with the addition of replicate cells. The mirrors and ribs produced in the facility are shipped to the project site for assembly with the balance of components.

The SkyTrough® is SkyFuel’s high-performance parabolic trough solar concentrator for use in utility-grade solar-thermal power plants for generating electricity or for industrial process heat applications.  

The SkyTrough® uses lightweight, glass-free, slide-in reflective mirror panels made with ReflecTech® Mirror Film. These mirror panels and the supporting aluminum space frame are lightweight, easy to manufacture, ship and deploy and significantly reduce construction time and cost compared to those for a conventional glass-mirrored parabolic trough system.

The SkyTrough® is based on proven parabolic trough geometry but incorporates several innovative features that set it apart from previous trough designs:  

1.  Shatterproof, non-glass reflector panels made with ReflecTech® Mirror Film

2.  Lower cost reflector panels that are faster to install than conventional glass mirrors

3.  Lighter aluminum space frame with fewer parts than other trough designs

4.  Faster field assembly time than conventional trough designs

5.  Larger diameter and longer receiver tubes to reduce cost and increase performance

6.  More robust, higher performance and lower cost tracking, drive and control system

7.  Compact shipping

Designed for Cost Reduction
The SkyTrough® draws on three main areas to achieve overall cost reduction.  

First, we addressed the two most important cost drivers for parabolic trough collectors: material mass and part count. The SkyTrough® reduces the mass of the space frame by 30% and its part count by 40% per unit area of mirror aperture as compared to the trough design deployed at the Nevada Solar One plant in 2007.

Second, fewer parts result in a system that is much simpler and faster to assemble. On-site assembly time required for the SkyTrough® space frame (per unit area of mirror aperture) is half that was needed for the trough frames at Nevada Solar One. The SkyTrough® assembly process requires few specialized skills and uses a joint fastening system that is long proven and standard practice in the aerospace industry.

Third, the SkyTrough® uses a robust and reliable hydraulic drive system and the first commercial wireless controller, eliminating all field-cabling.