Australia kicks off construction of water-free concentrating solar power plant

Construction will begin tomorrow on Australia’s largest concentrating solar-thermal tower system near Newcastle in New South Wales.

The Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation (CSIRO) will begin installing 450 large mirrors, called heliostats, which will eventually reflect the sun on to a 30-metre-high solar tower, generating temperatures of up to 1,000°C.

Compressed air passed through the tower will then expand on being heated and power a 200 kW turbine.

According to the developers, the system, known as a Brayton Cycle, is ideally suited to remote parts of Australia because unlike many other solar thermal power generators no water is required for it to operate.

To maintain a steady supply of power the compressed air can also be heated by a natural gas combustion generator on overcast days.

The heliostats used to reflect the sun are part of an advanced new solar technology developed by CSIRO and manufactured by Central Coast company Performance Engineering Group.

The mirrors have a special lightweight steel frame that has been created for mass production aimed at the commercial solar market. The design is smaller than many heliostats currently used around the world but has equivalent efficiency, according to the CSIRO.

Funded by a Commonwealth Government Initiative and the Australian Solar Institute, the project is part of a AU$5m collaboration between the CSIRO Energy Transformed Flagship and the Australian National University.

When construction is finished next year the plant will be the largest of its type in the world, covering an area of 4,000 square metres.

By Tom Young,