Southwest Solar Completes Solar Turbine Test

The full-scale prototype test was the first operational validation of the integrated system, which uses a large parabolic solar dish with mirrors to concentrate the sun’s energy to power an air-based open-cycle turbine to produce electricity. The full-scale field test was conducted at Southwest Solar’s headquarters and operations facility at Southwest Solar Research Park in Phoenix, Arizona.

This milestone field test used Southwest Solar’s 320 square-metre (~3450 square-foot) solar concentrating dish. The dish delivered thermal energy in the form of 2000 "suns" of concentrated sunlight into its advanced high-temperature solar-thermal receiver. Inside this receiver, compressed air was superheated and then used to power a high-speed turbine alternator and produce electrical power. The turbo-alternator and receiver components of the system were developed in partnership with Brayton Energy LLC of Hampton, New Hampshire.

The test was the third stage of an integrated development plan. Southwest Solar previously announced the commissioning of its solar dish in late 2010. In June 2011 it announced the successful testing and high-temperature performance of its proprietary receiver.

“The Company believes that integrating a gas turbine engine with a solar dish concentrator has never been achieved on this large scale,” said Brad Forst, CEO. “This is an enormous milestone in our development program. This proof of concept sets the stage for the commercialization of our technology which is well under way,” he said.

“This system performance gives us confidence that we can achieve significant operational advantages over other concentrating solar power (CSP) systems, such as steam-based trough and power towers that require water cooling, and over typical photovoltaic (PV) that are intermittent in nature,” said Herb Hayden, Chief Technical Officer.

“Our unique air-based turbine cycle has the potential for high efficiency, and can be constructed from distributed scale up to any size. It is inherently air-cooled, and so does not use any water for cooling. For firm-power reliability, the turbine may be hybridized with fuel for continued power generation during clouds and evening hours,” Hayden said. The turboalternator and receiver components were developed in partnership with Brayton Energy LLC, of Hampton, N.H.