From CSIROscope: “Chasing the sun with the World Solar Challenge”

CSIRO bloc

From CSIROscope

7 October 2019
Kate Cranney


When you think of road-tripping through central Australia, what kind of vehicle do you picture? A beat-up campervan with faded curtains? A caravan with funky decor and a funkier smell? How about a sleek, futuristic machine that’s powered by the sun?

Every two years, teams of university and high school students from around the world descend on Darwin for a very different kind of road trip… the World Solar Challenge!

The World Solar Challenge chases the sunshine along the Stuart Highway (Image: WSC)

World Solar Challenge: 3000 kilometres of sunshine and speed

It’s a solar-powered journey through Australia’s red centre.

Since 1987, the World Solar Challenge has pushed the boundaries of vehicle technology. The event has a star-studded list of alumni, including Larry Page (Google co-founder) and JB Straubel (Tesla co-founder and Chief Technical Officer), who says the event was a “key thing at the beginning of Tesla” and that he hired most of the initial Tesla staff from his World Solar Challenge team!

This year, nearly 50 teams (some of them with 40 members), will drive their sleek solar-powered machines from Darwin to Adelaide. That’s over 1500 participants from around the world, who will be watched by a global audience of 25 million. It’s certainly not your average drive through the countryside!

No scientists were injured in the taking of this photo! Scrutineering in full flight at the Convention Centre in Darwin. (Image: World Solar Challenge)

Who ya gonna call?! (If there’s something strange under your hood …)

Our scientists have played a key role in the World Solar Challenge since it began in 1987.

Apart from overseeing the scrutineering, we travel with the teams, providing expert advice and helping with technical problems; we oversee the electric vehicle chargers along the journey; and our scientist, Dr Glenn Platt, will be on the expert panel at the event finale—the Smart Grid Pitch in Adelaide.

At the finish line, Dr David Rand AM will be checking the vehicles’ batteries as they arrive into Adelaide, to make sure they’re still within regulations. David has worked with CSIRO for 50 years. He is now the chief energy scientist at the World Solar Challenge, and he’s been involved in the event since it began some 32 years ago.

It’s a big call, but we might be the world’s biggest fans of the world’s biggest solar challenge!

What’s under the bonnet? Scrutineering in the Top End

This week, the teams will gather for a week in Darwin, where scientists will scrutineer the vehicles ahead of the journey. It’s a heady start to the event. The students have spent months designing and building their cars, and our scientists will be there to make sure everything is up to scratch.

Scrutineering in action. The ‘white shirts’ (event officials) inspecting a concentrating solar collector from their 2013 car. From left to right: Prof John Storey (UNSW), Dr David Rand (CSIRO) & Dr John K Ward (CSIRO) (Photo: JLousberg).

Dr John Ward is the assistant chief scrutineer. In other words, this week he’ll be making sure the cars are above board. During the ‘static scrutineering’, the cars will be pulled apart to be inspected, to make sure they’re roadworthy, safe, and that they abide by regulations.

John started volunteering with the event in 2005. Back in Newcastle, he leads one of our research team that tackles the challenges of integrating large amounts of intermittent renewable energy into Australia’s electricity networks. But out on the road, he’ll be something of a solar-car doctor on call. He’ll be there to help teams out if things go wrong, if there’s are any curly situations.

“Some of the most interesting stories have been the overcoming of the challenges or problems,” John says. “One year, a car caught fire not long out of Darwin [no-one was hurt]. We had to put it on a trailer to Alice Springs. Then Glenn [Platt], myself and other volunteers all descended on the car, stayed up all night and we rebuilt this car and got it back on the road.”

High-tech science in outback Australia

“These cars are always at the forefront of the best solar cells, the highest efficiency electric motors, highest specific energy storage,” says John. He adds that if you want a glimpse into the future of solar-powered cars, “This is where you can see it.”

The World Solar Challenge shows the promise of solar and batteries for our energy future. The event has been happening since 1987, so we know these technologies work. We also know solar technology works because we’ve now exceeded 2 million rooftop installations in Australia, well beyond what anyone predicted! Demonstration events like this drive innovation along.

But how do we transition these technologies into the broader energy network? That’s something our researchers are working on by, for instance, modelling renewable energy in the grid.

The World Solar Challenge parade at Victoria Square in Adelaide. (Image: Susan Sun Nunamaker and Sunisthefuture)

Join the solar-powered celebrations!

No matter where you live in Australia, we have you covered for this year’s Bridgestone World Solar Challenge. We’ll be updating you on what’s happening on the way via our @CSIROevents twitter.

If you live in Darwin, Adelaide or anywhere in between, you can come and see the world’s most advanced solar cars for yourself! You can event meet the team members … future Tesla creators, perhaps …

Check out the program here for more information.

See the full article here .


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SKA/ASKAP radio telescope at the Murchison Radio-astronomy Observatory (MRO) in Mid West region of Western Australia

So what can we expect these new radio projects to discover? We have no idea, but history tells us that they are almost certain to deliver some major surprises.

Making these new discoveries may not be so simple. Gone are the days when astronomers could just notice something odd as they browse their tables and graphs.

Nowadays, astronomers are more likely to be distilling their answers from carefully-posed queries to databases containing petabytes of data. Human brains are just not up to the job of making unexpected discoveries in these circumstances, and instead we will need to develop “learning machines” to help us discover the unexpected.

With the right tools and careful insight, who knows what we might find.

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CSIRO, the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation, is Australia’s national science agency and one of the largest and most diverse research agencies in the world.

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From Stanford: “Stanford scientist’s new approach may accelerate design of high-power batteries”

Stanford University Name
Stanford University

April 6, 2017
Danielle Torrent Tucker

Electric vehicles plug in to charging stations. New research may accelerate discovery of materials used in electrical storage devices, such as car batteries. (Image credit: Shutterstock)

In work published this week in Applied Physics Letters, the researchers describe a mathematical model for designing new materials for storing electricity. The model could be a huge benefit to chemists and materials scientists, who traditionally rely on trial and error to create new materials for batteries and capacitors. Advancing new materials for energy storage is an important step toward reducing carbon emissions in the transportation and electricity sectors.

“The potential here is that you could build batteries that last much longer and make them much smaller,” said study co-author Daniel Tartakovsky, a professor in the School of Earth, Energy & Environmental Sciences. “If you could engineer a material with a far superior storage capacity than what we have today, then you could dramatically improve the performance of batteries.”

Lowering a barrier

One of the primary obstacles to transitioning from fossil fuels to renewables is the ability to store energy for later use, such as during hours when the sun is not shining in the case of solar power. Demand for cheap, efficient storage has increased as more companies turn to renewable energy sources, which offer significant public health benefits.

Tartakovsky hopes the new materials developed through this model will improve supercapacitors, a type of next-generation energy storage that could replace rechargeable batteries in high-tech devices like cellphones and electric vehicles. Supercapacitors combine the best of what is currently available for energy storage – batteries, which hold a lot of energy but charge slowly, and capacitors, which charge quickly but hold little energy. The materials must be able to withstand both high power and high energy to avoid breaking, exploding or catching fire.

“Current batteries and other storage devices are a major bottleneck for transition to clean energy,” Tartakovsky said. “There are many people working on this, but this is a new approach to looking at the problem.”

The types of materials widely used to develop energy storage, known as nanoporous materials, look solid to the human eye but contain microscopic holes that give them unique properties. Developing new, possibly better nanoporous materials has, until now, been a matter of trial and error – arranging minuscule grains of silica of different sizes in a mold, filling the mold with a solid substance and then dissolving the grains to create a material containing many small holes. The method requires extensive planning, labor, experimentation and modifications, without guaranteeing the end result will be the best possible option.

“We developed a model that would allow materials chemists to know what to expect in terms of performance if the grains are arranged in a certain way, without going through these experiments,” Tartakovsky said. “This framework also shows that if you arrange your grains like the model suggests, then you will get the maximum performance.”

Beyond energy

Energy is just one industry that makes use of nanoporous materials, and Tartakovsky said he hopes this model will be applicable in other areas, as well.

“This particular application is for electrical storage, but you could also use it for desalination, or any membrane purification,” he said. “The framework allows you to handle different chemistry, so you could apply it to any porous materials that you design.”

Tartakovsky’s mathematical modeling research spans neuroscience, urban development, medicine and more. As an Earth scientist and professor of energy resources engineering, he is an expert in the flow and transport of porous media, knowledge that is often underutilized across disciplines, he said. Tartakovsky’s interest in optimizing battery design stemmed from collaboration with a materials engineering team at the University of Nagasaki in Japan.

“This Japanese collaborator of mine had never thought of talking to hydrologists,” Tartakovsky said. “It’s not obvious unless you do equations – if you do equations, then you understand that these are similar problems.”

The lead author of the study, “Optimal design of nanoporous materials for electrochemical devices,” is Xuan Zhang, Tartakovsky’s former PhD student at the University of California, San Diego. The research was supported by the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency and the National Science Foundation.

See the full article here .

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Leland and Jane Stanford founded the University to “promote the public welfare by exercising an influence on behalf of humanity and civilization.” Stanford opened its doors in 1891, and more than a century later, it remains dedicated to finding solutions to the great challenges of the day and to preparing our students for leadership in today’s complex world. Stanford, is an American private research university located in Stanford, California on an 8,180-acre (3,310 ha) campus near Palo Alto. Since 1952, more than 54 Stanford faculty, staff, and alumni have won the Nobel Prize, including 19 current faculty members

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From COSMOS: “How solar cells turn sunlight into electricity”

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25 January 2017
Andrew Stapleton

Some solar power plants contain more than a million panels. But how do they convert the sun’s energy to electricity? Rolfo Brenner / EyeEm / Getty Images

Renewables have overtaken coal as the world’s largest source of electricity generation capacity. And about 30% of that capacity is due to silicon solar cells. But how do silicon cells work?

A silicon cell is like a four-part sandwich. The bread on either side consists of thin strips of metallic electrodes. They extract the power generated within the solar cell and conduct it to an external circuit.

Just like a sandwich, it’s the filling which is the most interesting part – this is where photons from the sun are converted into usable electricity. The filling of a solar cell consists of two different layers of silicon: negative and positive silicon, or n- and p-type silicon.


Creating positive or negative types of silicon is relatively easy. The silicon is impregnated with elements known as dopants. Dopants replace some of the silicon atoms in the crystal structure, allowing the number of electrons present in each layer to be manipulated.

For instance, phosphorus is used to create n-type silicon while boron is used to create p-type silicon. Phosphorus has one more electron than silicon. When substituted into the silicon structure, the electron is so weakly bound to the phosphorus that it can move freely within the crystal, creating a negative charge.

On the other hand, boron has fewer electrons than silicon and sucks up silicon’s electrons. This creates “electron holes” – regions of mobile positive charge in the crystal structure.

At the interface of the p- and n- type silicon, the positive electron holes and the electrons combine. It’s not a simple electrostatic interaction, but the upshot is that you get a slightly positive charge in the n-type silicon and a slightly negative charge in the p-type silicon at the interface of the n- and p- type silicon – the opposite of what you might expect.

Photons from the sun pass between the strips of the top electrode and strike silicon atoms in the crystal structure. Like the strike of a cue ball, the colliding photon gives some of the silicon electrons enough energy to escape from their parent silicon atom.

The “free” electrons move to and accumulate within the n-type silicon.

Once free electrons have accumulated in the n-type silicon, it’s time to put all the free electrons to work. In order to use their energy, the electrodes must be connected via an external circuit. Electrons flow through the electrodes and the external electric circuit from the n-type to the p-type. The p-type silicon acts as an electron sink. Without it, the electron flow would clog up.

It is this flow of electrons that creates the electrical current we can use to power appliances or charge batteries for when the sun isn’t shining.

See the full article here .

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From EPFL: “An effective and low-cost solution for storing solar energy”

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École Polytechnique Fédérale de Lausanne EPFL

Laure-Anne Pessina

An effective and low-cost solution for storing solar energy © Infini Lab / 2016 EPFL

Solar energy can be stored by converting it into hydrogen. But current methods are too expensive and don’t last long. Using commercially available solar cells and none of the usual rare metals, researchers at EPFL and CSEM have now designed a device that outperforms in stability, efficiency and cost.

How can we store solar energy for period when the sun doesn’t shine? One solution is to convert it into hydrogen through water electrolysis. The idea is to use the electrical current produced by a solar panel to ‘split’ water molecules into hydrogen and oxygen. Clean hydrogen can then be stored away for future use to produce electricity on demand, or even as a fuel.

But this is where things get complicated. Even though different hydrogen-production technologies have given us promising results in the lab, they are still too unstable or expensive and need to be further developed to use on a commercial and large scale.

The approach taken by EPFL and CSEM researchers is to combine components that have already proven effective in industry in order to develop a robust and effective system. Their prototype is made up of three interconnected, new-generation, crystalline silicon solar cells attached to an electrolysis system that does not rely on rare metals. The device is able to convert solar energy into hydrogen at a rate of 14.2%, and has already been run for more than 100 hours straight under test conditions. The method, which surpasses previous efforts in terms of stability, performance, lifespan and cost efficiency, is published in the Journal of The Electrochemical Society.

Enough to power a fuel cell car over 10,000km every year

“A 12-14 m2 system installed in Switzerland would allow the generation and storage of enough hydrogen to power a fuel cell car over 10,000 km every year”, says Christophe Ballif, who co-authored the paper. In terms of performance, this is a world record for silicon solar cells and for hydrogen production without using rare metals. It also offers a high level of stability.

High voltage cells have an edge

The key here is making the most of existing components, and using a ‘hybrid’ type of crystalline-silicon solar cell based on heterojunction technology. The researchers’ sandwich structure – using layers of crystalline silicon and amorphous silicon – allows for higher voltages. And this means that just three of these cells, interconnected, can already generate an almost ideal voltage for electrolysis to occur. The electrochemical part of the process requires a catalyst made from nickel, which is widely available.

“With conventional crystalline silicon cells, we would have to link up four cells to get the same voltage,” says co-author Miguel Modestino at EPFL.“So that’s the strength of this method.”

A stable and economically viable method

The new system is unique when it comes to cost, performance and lifespan. “We wanted to develop a high performance system that can work under current conditions,” says Jan-Willem Schüttauf, a researcher at CSEM and co-author of the paper. “The heterojunction cells that we use belong to the family of crystalline silicon cells, which alone account for about 90% of the solar panel market. It is a well-known and robust technology whose lifespan exceeds 25 years. And it also happens to cover the south side of the CSEM building in Neuchâtel.”

The researchers used standard heterojunction cells to prove the concept; by using the best cells of that type, they would expect to achieve a performance above 16%.

The research is part of the nano-tera SHINE project.

See the full article here .

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EPFL is Europe’s most cosmopolitan technical university with students, professors and staff from over 120 nations. A dynamic environment, open to Switzerland and the world, EPFL is centered on its three missions: teaching, research and technology transfer. EPFL works together with an extensive network of partners including other universities and institutes of technology, developing and emerging countries, secondary schools and colleges, industry and economy, political circles and the general public, to bring about real impact for society.

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From CSIRO via Financial Review: “CSIRO shows how 150-year-old turbine technology will power a sustainable future”

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Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation


Financial Review

Jun 28 2016
Mark Abernethy

Concentrated solar power uses the sun’s heat, rather than its light, from a field of heliostat mirrors in Newcastle. James Brickwood

At the CSIRO’s Energy Centre campus on the northern outskirts of Newcastle are two 40-metre “power towers”: one is curved and elegant, the other a mess of girders and gantries, ducts and pipes.

“This is the tower designed by the architects,” says the CSIRO’s Robbie McNaughton, pointing to the elegant solar receiver. “And this is the new one, designed by engineers. One looks better, one works better.”

In a world where many propose overturning industrial infrastructure to save the planet from carbon emissions, McNaughton and his team of visionaries are retaining technology used since the 1860s.

“Generating power by driving a turbine with steam has been perfected for 150 years,” McNaughton says. “We’re keeping the turbine – we’re just changing the front end.”

“When you have 170 heliostats pointing at one 4.5‑metre hole, the problem isn’t generating the heat,” Robbie McNaughton says. “The challenge is not melting everything.” James Brickwood

McNaughton’s team sought to replace the coal that generates steam with solar energy; and now they’ve replaced the water itself with carbon dioxide. The seven-year-old project retains the turbine at the centre of large-scale power generation because this solar power project is not about photovoltaic panels on roofs.

There are about 1.5 million Australian households and businesses with PV panels on their roofs and most feed into the power grid. But the National Energy Market (NEM) is 6000 kilometres long, and small-scale PV power lacks the frequency and inertia to be efficiently pushed hundreds of kilometres down the line, McNaughton says.

Enter utility solar, also known as concentrated solar power (CSP), which uses the sun’s heat, rather than its light. CSP concentrates the heat from a field of heliostat mirrors. The heliostats at Newcastle are slightly curved to create a first‑stage concentration and they’re controlled by actuators that track the sun.

The sun’s heat is reflected upwards at a receiver, a 4.5-metre square hole at the top of the tower containing a coil of pipes. When water runs through the very hot pipes it turns to steam, which drives a turbine. “When you have 170 heliostats pointing at one 4.5‑metre hole, the problem isn’t generating the heat,” McNaughton says. “The challenge is not melting everything.”

‘Supercritical’ steam

Typical coal-powered boilers run at about 540 degrees and pressure of 17 megapascals. In June 2014, McNaughton’s team created supercritical steam at 570 degrees and 23.5 megapascals – a world record for solar.

McNaughton isn’t, however, too concerned about the temperatures from well-engineered power towers: there are already CSP operations in Australian power stations, two of which augment fossil fuels and one at Jemalong, NSW, a small pilot CSP plant. “We’ve run it at 1500 degrees,” he says of the receiver at the CSIRO facility. “Heat isn’t the issue – storage and efficiency are the issues.”

Just as home owners can buy batteries to store rooftop power for later use, if utility solar is going to simulate the baseload capacity of fossil fuel power generation, it has to store its thermal energy so the turbines can be turned at any time. “To be utility-grade it has to produce power when the sun isn’t shining, and it has to be dispatchable between 6pm and 7pm,” says McNaughton, referring to the peak load window of the national grid, when demand is greatest and power at its most expensive.

In Spain’s Gemasolar power plant and the United States’ Crescent Dunes, where utility solar is being used commercially, the heat is stored in molten salt (Jemalong also uses salt). It is heated by the solar receiver and when the sun goes down, heat from the stored salt is used to drive the turbine.

Spain’s Gemasolar power plant

Crescent Dunes

McNaughton’s team has used salt. But Australia has the world’s highest rate of insolation – the solar radiation that reaches the Earth’s surface – in populated areas (similar insolation levels in Africa and the Americas occur in desert zones) and the CSIRO team plans to use it to achieve higher thermal efficiency rates.

The problem, says McNaughton, is that while salt is an excellent medium for running a turbine and storing heat, it has a natural limit of 590 degrees – well short of the temperatures that create optimum thermal efficiency. So his team has moved on from water and salt and are using carbon dioxide instead. The CSIRO project heats the CO2 to 720 degrees, at which point they run a CO2 turbine at greater than 50 per cent thermal efficiency (water and salt run at just over 40 per cent).

In the ugly-but-effective power tower at Newcastle, McNaughton’s team reticulate 100 kilograms of CO2 through the receiver. It is heated to 720 degrees and runs a fridge‑sized turbine which has produced enough power to run a small town.
Technology partnerships

Storing the heat is done through a steel tank at the base of the tower in which special ceramic balls are heated by the initial solar process; a secret heat-transfer liquid is run down the tank and into a heat-exchanger, from which a turbine can be driven when there’s no sun. “No other publicly acknowledged project in the world is doing this with CO2,” McNaughton says.

McNaughton’s team set itself benchmarks well beyond simple proof of concept. This project delivers a technology that a power company will actually build and rely on, and just to emphasise its acceptance by the engineering world, the solar-CO2 project is in technology partnerships with power giants GE and Mitsubishi.

“We don’t see the value in a technology that isn’t producing at least 50 megawatts,” says McNaughton, referring to a minimum size at which a CSP plant would be viable.

“You could build a small plant to power a remote community, but realistically it would be a larger investment and it would provide power to the east coast grid.”

He says the bold new vision of solar power is slightly more expensive than PV but the costs of building it reduce with every project. He points to the 300MW Ivanpah solar power station south of Las Vegas. “They have three power towers in that project – the cost of the heliostats fell by 50 per cent between building the first tower and the third.”

McNaughton’s team will have a prototype plant operating by the end of 2016, and he expects it to run for at least two years before the big banks and super funds consider it to be sufficiently low risk to be worth investing in. One risk they don’t have to worry about is fossil fuel price volatility, a fact McNaughton says will see financiers backing the technology.

“Once you’ve built a solar power plant, the sun doesn’t charge you any more for its energy.”

See the full article here .

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CSIRO, the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation, is Australia’s national science agency and one of the largest and most diverse research agencies in the world.

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From CSIRO: “Watt-ever floats your boat: solar on water”

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Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation

22nd June 2016
Natalie Kikken

Is it a pool? Is it a raft? No, it’s float-ovoltaics! Credit: Photo courtesy of Lightsource

Close your eyes and ponder what a commercial solar photovoltaic (PV) farm looks like. Do you envisage arid desert plains glistening with thousands of solar PV panels under abundant sunshine?

You’re probably not alone thinking such sunny thoughts. But believe it or not, the ideal temperature conditions and landscape for solar PV panels to work most efficiently doesn’t always have to be hot and sunny weather. The amount of energy produced is often influenced by the material of the panels themselves, and recent research has unveiled that sometimes thousands of solar panels floating on water is the best way to increase energy output.

Floating a bright idea

We all know PV panels look great on rooftops, but where else can they be installed to maximise the amount of energy being produced and to utilise space? All PV panels become slightly less efficient as their temperature rises, so cooling them can lead to better energy production, especially in warm climates. This is where the idea of building solar PV farms on or near water starts to look more attractive.

Solar ideas coming up from Down Under

As is often the case, an Australian company led the way, with one of our former scientists, Phil Connor, designing the first ever floating solar PV system around a decade ago for the Australian company Sunengy Pty Ltd. We tested the first prototype of that system, which is now on the way to becoming commercialised in India.

Australian company Sunengy’s world-first large floating solar photovoltaic array, and the first installed on a hydro-electric dam. No image credit.

Thinking outside the solar box

Scientists across the globe are investigating how to most efficiently build solar PV systems on water to ensure you can power-up using the sun, and enable some industries to generate enough power for their operational requirements. These floating solar farms utilise space that would otherwise go wasted and can also help reduce evaporation. Placing the collectors in a hydro dam, as Sunengy has done, gives free access to the large transmission line, allowing considerably better economy from the PV installation.

Australia first large floating solar plant was built in Jamestown, South Australia in April 2015, generating up to 45 percent more energy per panel than a rooftop solar system. The city of Lismore announced a call for tenders this year to build the first ever community funded floating solar farm.

Europe’s largest floating solar power farm was unveiled in London, UK. Built by Thames Water, the farm consists of 23,000 solar panels and will produce enough power to operate the utility’s local water treatment plants including enough clean drinking water for nearly 10,000 people. More construction for bigger and better floating solar farms are already underway.

Catching the solar floating wave

So what does this mean for Australia’s energy future, and our landscape? Will we be seeing a sea of solar farms pop up along our Aussie waterways, dams and coastlines?

One of our solar research gurus, Dr Greg Wilson, thinks floating solar farms could be the way of the future for semi-arid regions of Australia, in particular farmland and waterways for irrigation.

“Floating solar PV panels reduce evaporation so there is significant potential to create better and more efficient energy systems when used near open irrigation systems or for water treatment plants or large drinking water catchment areas,” said Dr Wilson.

“Water quality is maintained by circulation of the main body of water so the energy required for this can be offset by the energy produced by the solar panels. It can be far more energy efficient and cost effective to have reduced evaporation than purely generating electrical energy,” he adds.

Sunengy’s vision is to incorporate hundreds of megawatts of floating solar on the surface of each of our hydroelectric dams to create the lowest cost addition to our renewable energy supplies.

Looking at the Australian and international examples of floating solar farms that have emerged over the last 12 months, it’s certainly an area for growth.

We aren’t walking on water just yet but we are leaders in the solar energy space with two active solar research fields including photovoltaic and concentrating solar thermal power. We also recently challenged the status quo for energy innovation by holding our first ever Solar Hackathon.

These heliostats might not be floating on water, but they can spell our name!

See the full article here .

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From Science Alert: “Chile is producing so much solar power, it’s giving it away for free”


Science Alert

3 JUN 2016


Market forces often produce strange quirks in the economic system, like the one we’re seeing in Chile this year: the country is producing so much solar power that it’s being sold for… nothing at all.

While it’s incredibly encouraging to see so much expansion in the country’s renewable energy output, this huge amount of supply does actually cause problems for the companies looking to invest in solar energy.

Solar capacity on Chile’s central power grid (called SIC or Sistema Interconectado Central) has more than quadrupled over the past three years to 770 megawatts – good news for the environment and customers paying their electricity bills.

Now the challenge is to upgrade the infrastructure to cope with the influx of solar energy.

As Vanessa Dezem and Javiera Quiroga report at Bloomberg, spot prices (set by supply and demand) for electricity have hit zero for 113 days this year up to the end of April. That compares with 192 days in total in 2015.

Increasing energy demands and investment followed by a slowing of economic growth means that regions are being oversupplied with power – 29 solar farms are now online in the country with a further 15 in the pipeline.

It’s fantastic to see so much solar energy being produced, but next-to-nothing prices will discourage future investment and mean power plants just aren’t profitable, warn experts.

The solution lies in increasing the country’s ability to take on extra capacity, and there are plans to build a 3,000-kilometre (1,854-mile) transmission line to link the SIC with Chile’s northern power network for the first time.

Once this is built, it’ll mean that, when there is a surplus, it can be re-routed to areas that need it. Basically it’s just increasing the demand on the sustainable product by giving more people access to it.

There are also transmission lines within the two grids that need to be upgraded to allow electricity to be more evenly distributed.

Chile is way ahead of other countries in Latin America when it comes to renewable energy capacity – producing more than the rest of the continent combined, according to Bloomberg’s figures – which is partly helped by the abundance of sunshine, wind, and water in the country.

But they’ve also invested in some awesome technology that are helping them maximise these natural resources. One of the biggest renewable energy sources in the country is the Atacama-1 solar tower, in the middle of the Atacama desert.

Standing more than 200 metres (656 feet) tall, the US$1.1 billion project uses mirrors to concentrate sunlight onto a steel solar receiver that weighs 2,000 tonnes, as Jonathan Watts reports for The Guardian. Thanks to 10,600 heliostatic mirrors and 50,000 tonnes of molten salt, the tower will eventually be able to supply electricity around the clock.

As well as upgrading its infrastructure to support projects like Atacama-1, Chile has plans to export its solar power energy too: “We are in a region of the world that has huge opportunities for integration and interconnection,” Chile’s Energy Minister Maximo Pacheco told Bloomberg.

This is something that countries like Denmark, which has a lot of wind energy production, does in order to maintain the price of wind power even when there’s a surplus.

“There are huge opportunities for Chile… [to] export some of this renewable energy to other countries in the region,” added Pacheco.

What’s exciting is that we’re halfway there – we’re getting so much better at harnessing renewable energy, now we just need to find out a way to make it a good idea economically.

See the full article here .

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