Solar power: energy from the sun

Concentrated solar power

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CSIRO is leading the way in concentrated solar thermal power (CSP) research in Australia, specialising in high-temperature central receiver systems.

Central receiver systems, sometimes called 'power towers',harness the heat of the sun. Sun-tracking mirrors, called heliostats, concentrate sunlight by focusing it onto a target, generating temperatures of hundreds of degrees. This heat can then be used to run a power cycle to make electricity, or drive other industrial processes.

Image of close up of the solar panels at the National Solar Energy Centre.

Solar panels at the National Solar Energy Centre, Newcastle, NSW, Australia.

While many commercial CSP power stations are already in operation overseas, much research still needs to be done on lowering the cost of CSP technology. CSIRO is aiming to make electricty from CSP competitive with fossil fuel-generated in electricity in Australia through the Australian solar thermal research initiative.

CSIRO has several large scale CSP demonstration and research facilities, and they are used for research and development for several different projects, including:

  • SolarGas – demonstrating how solar energy can 'supercharge' natural gas
  • Solar air turbine research and demonstration – generating electricity from the sun and air
  • High-temperature Solar Steam research – combining solar power with the energy industry's most state-of-the-art turbines
  • Energy storage: showing how solar power can still be used when cloudy or after dark. 

Other areas of research relevant to CSP include:

  • Solar intermittency: understanding and managing intermittency and the grid
  • Techno-economic modelling: forecasting technical developments and cost reductions

More information:

Creating electricity from heat: solar thermoelectric generators

Concentrated solar thermal (CST) power plants use mirrors to concentrate energy from the sun onto a receiver, where the thermal energy can then be used for various purposes. For example, to heat a fluid to drive a turbine to generate electricity.

Developing new solar air turbine system technology

A new partnership between CSIRO and Mitsubishi Heavy Industries will develop and demonstrate large scale air turbine system technology for concentrated solar thermal power plants.

Solar intermittency: Australia’s clean energy challenge

Intermittency is one of the biggest barriers to the large-scale uptake of solar energy. Sunshine is difficult to accurately forecast, can change rapidly due to moving clouds, cannot be controlled and is not a source of energy 24 hours a day.

SolarGas: super solar charged natural gas

A super solar charged gas that can be bottled, piped or harnessed on demand, helping to conserve fossil fuels and create a low emissions energy future.

Australia's largest solar thermal research hub

The first of its kind in Australia, this large-scale demonstration site will be an international hub for researching and commercialising concentrated solar energy technologies.