Researchers at the Australian National University in Canberra have developed the technology that makes large scale solar thermal power generation commercially viable. Yokogawa Australia’s PLC is playing a critical role. The Australian National University are now conducting the final testing of their second generation ‘Big Dish’ solar thermal concentrator. The device has been built in the university grounds with support from corporate partner, Wizard Power.
To work efficiently, the mirror-covered dish needs to rotate and change angle during the day as the sun changes position, and that needed a small control system. Yokogawa Australia presented their FA-M3 programmable controller and won the order.
The dish concentrates the sun’s rays onto a receiver mounted at its focal point, providing sufficient heat to split ammonia into hydrogen and nitrogen gases. These gases can be stored indefinitely at ambient temperatures until required for use. When power is needed, the gases are recombined in an exothermic reaction, which produces enough heat to generate electricity through a steam turbine.
As the Big Dish technology stores energy before generating electricity, it is capable of delivering multi-megawatt base load electricity and meeting peak loads continuously in the same way that coal, nuclear or gas fired power stations do. The Big Dish technology can generate emission-free power on a large scale.
Once the technology has been fully tested, it will be utilised in a pilot base load solar thermal power plant in Whyalla, South Australia to be built by Australian company, Wizard Power. The Whyalla plant will initially have four dishes, each of which will have its own control system and be capable of producing up to 100kW of electricity. The Federal Government has supported the project with a grant as a part of their efforts to tackle climate change.
The Big Dish technology can achieve up to 1200°C to make an array of other conversion opportunities possible. These include solar gasification of coal and biomass to produce distillates that can be used as clean transport fuels.