Australia’s solar heliostat technology will be used for concentrating solar thermal (CST) electricity generation in China.

In continued emphasis on mitigation and adaptation, CSIRO has partnered with Chinese company Thermal Focus, following China’s announcement to produce 1.4GW of CST by 2018, and 5GW by 2020.

This would double the world’s installed CST plants.

The relationship enables Thermal Focus to manufacture, market, sell and install CSIRO’s patented low-cost heliostats, field control software and design software in China, with a shared revenue stream back to Australia to fund further climate mitigation research.

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“Australia is a leader in clean energy technology and CSIRO’s partnership with China’s Thermal Focus takes our climate mitigation focus to a global stage,” said CSIRO chief executive Dr Larry Marshall.

“This is another great example of all four pillars of our Strategy 2020 in action; using excellent science to deliver breakthrough innovation, and through global collaboration, increasing renewable energy deliverables.

Solar thermal technology uses a field of computer-controlled mirrors (heliostats) that accurately reflect and concentrate sunlight onto a receiver on top of a tower.

The concentrated sunlight may then be used to heat and store molten salt, which can generate superheated steam to drive a turbine for electricity generation.

An advantage of this system is the very low cost of storing thermal energy, giving CST technology great potential for medium to large-scale solar power, even when the sun isn’t shining.

A heliostat field can represent up to 40% of the total plant cost, so low cost, high precision heliostats are a crucial component.

CSIRO’s unique design features smaller-than-conventional heliostats and uses an advanced control system to get high performance from a cost-effective design.

The software optimises the configuration of the heliostats prior to construction and manages each heliostat to ensure the optimum amount of reflected heat is focused on the receiver, maximising the amount of power that can be produced.

The licensing agreement with Thermal Focus follows CSIRO’s successful international solar thermal partnerships with Japan’s Mitsubishi Hitachi Power Systems, and the Cyprus Institute and Heliostat SA in Australia.

Wei Zhu from Thermal Focus, welcomes the collaboration and acknowledges CSIRO’s reputation in R&D and work in solar thermal research.

“CSIRO’s solar thermal technology combined with our manufacturing capability will help expedite and deliver solar thermal as an important source of renewable energy in China. This partnership will help us commercialise this emerging technology on a larger scale.”