We are using solar energy to generate hot and pressurised ‘supercritical’ steam, at the highest temperatures in the world, outside of fossil fuel sources.
Increasing the efficiency of solar electricity
Commercial solar thermal power plants around the world use subcritical steam, operating at similar temperatures but at lower pressure. If these plants were able to move to supercritical steam, it would increase the efficiency and help to lower the cost of solar electricity.
Supercritical solar steam is water pressurised at enormous force and heated using solar radiation. Around 90 per cent of Australia's electricity is generated using fossil fuel, but only a small number of power stations are based on the more advanced supercritical steam.
Delivering solar breakthroughs through collaboration
We have been developing advanced solar storage to provide solar electricity at any time, day or night through a $5.68 million research program supported by the Australian Renewable Energy Agency (ARENA) and a broader collaboration with Abengoa Solar, the largest supplier of solar thermal electricity in the world.
The breakthrough was made at the CSIRO Energy Centre, Newcastle, home to Australia's low emission and renewable energy research. The Centre includes two solar thermal test plants featuring more than 600 mirrors (heliostats) directed at two towers housing solar receivers and turbines.
Bringing zero emission energy closer
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.
Although there is still work to be done before this technology is ready for commercialisation, ARENA CEO Ivor Frischknecht acknowledged the significant achievement saying it 'brings solar thermal energy a step closer to cost competitiveness with fossil fuel generated power.'