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We're helping Cyprus meet its renewable energy targets with half an acre of our unique sun-tracking mirrors, or heliostats, in the sun-drenched Mediterranean.

The challenge

Boosting renewable energy sources in Europe

The Mediterranean island of Cyprus currently relies heavily on oil to generate electricity. Due to its climate, it is also reliant on drawing fresh water from sea-water desalination, which requires a significant energy input.

To satisfy European legislation, Cyprus is now committed to deriving 13 per cent of its total energy consumption from renewable sources by 2020.

Our response

Solar solutions from Newcastle to Pentakomo

Our Energy Centre in Newcastle, NSW is the home of Australia's low emission and renewable energy research. It features two solar thermal test plants with more than 600 heliostats – specialised mirrors that track the sun, reflecting light towards a central receiver and heating it. The heat is subsequently used to drive a turbine for generating electricity.

Thermal energy can also be stored relatively cheaply compared to some other technologies, improving potential for large scale power generation regardless of when the sun is shining.

Inspired by the challenges facing Cyprus, our scientists partnered with the Cyprus Institute, the country's premier research body, to design and install a solar field in Pentakomo, on the island's southern coast. The research facility will be used to generate electricity and to provide fresh water by powering energy intensive desalination plants.

[Music plays and text appears: Bringing our solar expertise to Cyprus]

[Image changes to show Mike Collins, CSIRO Mechanical Engineer]

Mike Collins: My name’s Mike, I’m a mechanical engineer here at CSIRO. I travelled to Cyprus in 2014 as part of the Cyprus Solar Thermal Project to build the heliostats and install them into the field there.

[Image changes to show aerial footage of a field of heliostats]

[Time lapse footage of the heliostat field being constructed plays on screen]

We got to enjoy the fantastic coastal location of the heliostat field there; it’s built right on the edge of the ocean where they access sea water for desalination.

[Image has changed back to show Mike]

The project has 50 heliostats, which concentrate light up onto the top of the tower where they can use the heat from the heliostats, which comes from the sun; they can use that heat to desalinate water and to also create electricity.

[Image changes to show time lapse footage of the construction of the heliostats in a factory type setting and then changes to show footage of the heliostat field being erected]

The field, in total, can collect around 150 kilowatts of energy, so around about enough energy to boil a two litre jug of water in around five seconds.

[Image changes to show Professor Costas Papanicolas]

Professor Costas Papanicolas: Cyprus, an island state, the southernmost and easternmost state of the European Union has lots of sunshine, not enough water and is cut off from the continental power grid of Europe, so we need electricity and water. So solar energy, we think, is the answer to part of this problem.

[Time lapse footage of the heliostat field being constructed plays on screen]

Trying to desalinate water with using solar energy, and at the same time produce electricity.

[Image changes to show Professor Papanicolas and CSIRO staff walking through the heliostat field together and then changes to show Professor Papanicolas]

CSIRO has a lot of those technologies, frankly, we think among the best in the world, and we would like to learn from the research being done here, import some of these technologies and develop a cooperation agreement so we can exchange ideas, what we learn, to achieve those goals, which are useful, not only for Cyprus, but for many parts of the world.

[Image changes to show Wes Stein, CSIRO Solar Research Leader]

Wes Stein: This project has been fantastic for us; it’s the first time we’ve built our heliostats outside of our own backyard. That was a big step for us.

[Image changes to show Wes Stein and Professor Papanicolas walking through the heliostat field together and then changes to show Wes Stein]

Normally we don’t do that sort of thing, but in the case of Cyprus they were a fantastic partner, they understood the research initiatives that we were undertaking, they understood the issues associated with developing a new facility in a new country, so that partnership has worked really well and, I guess, it now sets a platform for a decade of ongoing, collaborative research between our countries. In addition, it’s given CSIRO a lot of confidence in understanding how we’re going to deploy these things outside of our own safety zone and into other environments. So that’s where we want to go, we want these things to be commercialised and build on the good research that we’re doing now.

[Music plays and CSIRO logo appears with text: Big ideas start here]

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"Our high-performance heliostats have a unique design that is well suited to the rugged terrain on Cyprus' south coast, allowing them to operate very efficiently. They are smaller than conventional heliostats, which gives the user more control over the intensity of the solar concentration," our solar research leader Wes Stein said.

"They also feature a low cost design which allows them to be installed more affordably."

The results

Cyprus at the frontier of solar research

With local help, it took our scientists just five weeks to build the half-acre, 50-heliostat Mediterranean installation, which can generate enough power to boil two litres of water in less than five seconds.

Our solar thermal field spreads out over half an acre in Cyprus, overlooking the Mediterranean Sea.

The experimental facility will be initially used for demonstration purposes by the Cyprus Institute with a view to longer-term commercial use of the technology.

Wes Stein said the project placed the island nation at the frontier of solar energy research in Europe, and was also a big milestone for us.

"This project was a big step for CSIRO as it's the first time we've deployed our technology outside of our own backyard.

"The Cyprus Institute has been a perfect partner for this project as it's a similar organisation with a similar philosophy when it comes to concentrated solar power. By working collaboratively, sharing research, science and ideas, we can accelerate the deployment of this technology and make big inroads in reducing global emissions of carbon dioxide.

"The establishment of this research facility distinguishes Cyprus as one of the few countries in the world with pioneering facilities in the innovative field of solar thermal technology."

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