Massive breakthrough in solar power tech by SA researchers

Researchers at Stellenbosch University are developing technology that will dramatically reduce the cost of building concentrated solar power (CSP) plants, The Guardian reported.

[Also read: How CSP plants work]

According to the report, this is a problem that stumped Google’s engineers during the search giant’s RE<C initiative.

The South African team, which is headed up by director of the Solar Thermal Research Group at Stellenbosch University, Paul Gauché, is working on ways to decrease the cost of the heliostats CSP plants use.

Heliostats are shaped mirrors that track the sun and reflect its light onto a large heat exchanger, called a receiver, which sits atop a 160+ metre tower.

They are usually mounted on a large central base which is set in concrete, and with current technology these heliostats are expensive to produce.

Costly wiring and highly-skilled construction crews also drive up the price of CSP technology compared to conventional photovoltaic panels.

Gauché said their research will change this, as they are developing what he calls “plonkable heliostats”.

These use smaller mirrors than normal CSP plants, and just two workers can drop them down and erect the street-light style central tower.

The approach is being tested in a pilot project called Helio100, which will use over 100 heliostats of 2.2 square meters each deployed with no cement, construction crews, or wiring.

Helio100 will generate 150KW in total, and the team told The Guardian that it wants their system fully functional by the end of October 2015.

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Massive breakthrough in solar power tech by SA researchers