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Cutting-edge solar research at Mawson Lakes

by Kelly Stone

Professor Wasim Saman.Unlocking the key to baseline power from the sun is the focus of cutting-edge solar storage research at Mawson Lakes campus.

UniSA’s Barbara Hardy Institute recently secured a $689,000 grant to start work on a testing facility for storing heat from solar energy at high temperatures – up to 1000 degrees celsius.

The Australian Solar Institute grant has provided funding towards the $2.3 million project to develop a world-class facility to test prototype high temperature storage systems.

The project puts the Barbara Hardy Institute at the forefront of storage research for concentrating solar power technologies internationally.

Lead researcher Professor Wasim Saman (pictured right) says unlike solar panels on home roofs, solar thermal storage is being developed for use in large-scale, solar power generation stations.

“With solar panels, it’s very expensive to store electricity. You use the electricity when it’s delivered, when the sun is shining,” he says.

“With solar thermal, we concentrate the heat from the sun and collect it at high temperature. The cost of storing the heat is quite manageable so we can make the solar system or solar energy provide what we call baseline power.

“Baseline power means it’s available whenever we need it – it’s always there, as opposed to only when it’s generated. There is a myth that solar power is no good because you can’t use it at night or when there’s no sunshine. But with thermal storage, you can store heat to generate the steam that you need, like you do in a conventional power station. So that’s the key significance of solar thermal plants with storage.”

Prof Saman says while there are a few solar thermal power plants around the world, Australia is hoping to move to this technology in a big way, starting with a plant in Whyalla.

“The whole world is expecting solar thermal technology to contribute to future energy demands,” Prof Saman says.

“There is certainly an international need for high temperature thermal storage and we are one of the leading international groups doing this work.”

The three-year project involves building a test facility and two prototype storage systems during the first two years. It is hoped to successfully test the prototype at Mawson Lakes, and then transfer the storage technology to the Whyalla Solar Oasis project once it is built.

The design, construction and testing of the two thermal storage systems incorporates new phase change materials and heat transfer techniques with the aim of reducing the cost of high temperature, high density storage systems.

Working with Prof Saman on the project is Senior Research Fellow Dr Frank Bruno, Research Fellow Dr Ming Liu and two higher degree research students.

Project partners are the Whyalla Solar Oasis Consortium, AORA Solar, and the University of Lleida in Spain.

The Australian Solar Institute funding aims to accelerate the commercial deployment of solar energy.

To find out more about UniSA’s commitment to sustainability at the Barbara Hardy Institute, click here.