Australian-made solar thermal technology – designed by the CSRIO and manufactured by a former South Australian automotive company – has been exported to Japan to be used in a major hybrid solar tower project, and further unspecified solar research projects over the next few years.
The Yokohama project, being developed by Mitsubishi Hitachi Power Systems (MHPS), will establish a field of 150 heliostats designed by Australian scientists from the CSIRO, and manufactured in a factory in Adelaide’s western suburbs that has recently diversified from making metal car parts.
The company that owns the factory, Heliostat SA, is an offshoot of Precision Components – just one of the many Australian automotive companies that tapped a $20 million federal government fund created to help auto suppliers and workers to transfer skills and equipment to other industries.
Using a $1 million investment from the Automotive Diversification Programme, Precision diversified into renewable energy, using its existing pressed metal equipment to make the CSIRO’s unique solar thermal technology, instead of car parts. Former production workers also transferred their skills to the manufacture of the solar energy devices.
It is the second Australian car manufacturer to see its future in solar technology. Geelong (Victoria) based IXL, which faced the collapse of its automotive metal stamping and roll forming business, last year opened a new plant in Adelaide’s northern suburbs to make solar PV mounting structures.
The Adelaide factory was opened specifically to service the construction of Australia’s biggest solar PV plant, the combined 155MW (AC) capacity of the Nyngan and Broken Hill projects, the latter of which is still being built in western NSW by US manufacturer First Solar, on behalf of AGL Energy.
The result of the Precision diversification, meanwhile, has been the second international deployment of CSIRO’s solar thermal technology, following on from the recent installation of a research field in Cyprus.
“These projects are the fruits of more than a decade of solar thermal research emanating from our energy centre in Newcastle and demonstrate the growing worldwide appetite for concentrated solar power,” said CSIRO’s Energy and Resources Executive Director Dr Alex Wonhas.
According to the CSIRO, its heliostats – the angled mirrors used in solar thermal plants that rotate to reflect and concentrate sunlight onto a receiver on top of a tower – are smaller than conventional heliostats, and uses an advanced control system to get high performance from a relatively inexpensive design.
“To have CSIRO’s heliostats selected by MHPS, a global leader in energy, proves that our technology is up there with the best in the world. Our successful collaboration with Heliostat SA also shows the benefits of science working closely with industry to create value for the Australian economy,” Wonhas said.