Beck says SHEC Energy has spent almost 16 years developing renewable energy technologies that have unbounded potential. Now, he says, the company has lab results showing it can reduce the cost of solar power by about 75 per cent over existing solar systems. That makes it competitive with the lowest-cost fossil fuels.
Solar power produced by existing systems costs around $0.13 to $0.20 per kilowatt hour (kWh). Beck says SHEC Energy’s technology can reduce that cost to between $0.06 and $0.08 per kWh.
“That’s only slightly more than coal, which is among the least expensive of the fossil fuels,’’ says Beck. “And it comes without the pollution and negative health effects you get when burning fossil fuels, and it’s far less costly than nuclear power, with all its long term radioactive waste issues.”
Solar energy has been the domain of wishful thinkers for decades. But high capital costs and intermittency – the sun doesn’t shine at night – have always been barriers to wide adoption. SHEC Energy has successfully overcome both issues.
Unlike photovoltaic (PV) systems that convert light to electricity, concentrating solar power systems (CSP) similar to the one used by SHEC Energy produce power by concentrating sunlight to generate high temperature heat, similar to how a magnifying glass concentrates sunlight into a point of intense heat. This heat is then used to boil water to make steam to turn a turbine. This use of the turbine is the same as used with fossil fuels like coal, oil, gas or nuclear. The turbine connects to a generator that makes electricity.
In typical CSP systems, there is a high cost for deploying the solar field, which consists of hundreds or thousands of solar concentrators. This mades CSP plants more expensive than conventional power plants. And those higher financing costs result in higher costs for the power generated.
SHEC Energy’s proprietary CSP system introduces new technology that dramatically lowers the cost of the solar field and significantly increases the efficiency of thermal energy storage. This means SHEC Energy’s CSP system can store heat energy very cheaply and thereby continue producing power 24 hours a day, except in prolonged cloudy conditions. In those circumstances, the plant could switch over to fossil fuel because it operates on thermal energy, whether generated by the sun, gas or oil.
The technology also has application for amplified photovoltaics for smaller scale deployments. There is also application for industrial, village and acreage scale systems for power and heat. “Now we finally have a clean, renewable and economically viable solution to our energy needs,’’ says Beck.