Melbourne-based concentrated solar technology company RayGen Resources is set to ramp up the commercialisation of its home grown solar tower power technology – both in Australia and abroad – with another $4.8 million in grant funding from the Australian Renewable Energy Agency.
ARENA said on Thursday it would tip a further $4.8 million into the company, adding to the $2.9 million the Agency contributed last year, towards the conversion of RayGen’s pilot solar PV plant in Newbridge, Victoria, into a utility-scale demonstration facility.
The $5.9 million Newbridge project is built using RayGen’s PV Ultra technology, which uses low-cost wireless mirrors to track and reflect a concentrated light beam onto an array of PV Ultra modules in the tower-mounted receiver. Its two linked 250kW fields (pictured above) will be used to power a local mushroom farm.
It will also allow the company to collect the sort of ‘bankable data’ on the plant’s output and efficiency necessary to support the further adoption of PV Ultra by suppliers, investors and customers.
ARENA said the new funding would go towards the 500kW expansion of the prototype site, as well as to the upgrade of a scaleable manufacturing plant, to support the development of two PV Ultra projects in China with a minimum capacity of 11MW.
Under the terms of the funding agreement, ARENA also has the right to recoup or convert its grant funding to a share of equity in RayGen.
RayGen’s steady progress – it was founded in 2010, has a 8MW manufacturing line in Blackburn, and in 2014 set the world record for solar efficiency with the UNSW – continues against a backdrop of exciting times for concentrating solar technologies in Australia, with the announcement in August of a 150MW solar tower and molten salt storage plant contracted by the South Australian government.
The plant, to be built in the former coal town of Port Augusta by US company SolarReserve, marks the first major deployment in Australia of a technology that combines both solar tower power and storage in the one facility, and the largest such facility in the world.
A $650 million affair, it will use thousands of mirrors (heliostats) to reflect and concentrate sunlight onto a central receiver on top of a 220 metre tower containing molten salt.
By comparison, RayGen’s PV Ultra technology requires just four square metres of photovoltaic material and 2500 meters of mirrors per megawatt – compared to 5000 square metres of photovoltaic material needed for traditional silicon solar farms per megawatt. While storage is not automatically included, the technology has the ability to cogenerate and incorporate enhanced power storage using the captured heat transferred from the PV Ultra modules.
ARENA CEO Ivor Frischknecht said the Newbridge demonstration plant was an important step for the technology in Australia, as costs begin to come down and more solar tower projects are being commissioned.
“This is an exciting opportunity for ARENA to invest in RayGen, an Australian-based solar technology business, that is really leading the world in concentrated solar PV and making it commercially viable, Frischknecht said.
RayGen founder Dr John Lasich said the new funding would allow RayGen to bring its technology to a broader market.
“We’re excited to be manufacturing PV Ultra in Australia and deploying this technology into the Australian and global marketplace at precisely the time where there is huge demand for large scale solar power.
“With proven high efficiency and ultra-low manufacturing cost, we see this as having huge potential, as we are on track to delivering the lowest cost solar power,” Dr Lasich said.
RayGen executive chairman David Sutton said the company’s progress would also help to create local jobs in Victoria.
“Automated manufacture of our small but ultra-powerful PV module underpins a capital light business model which sidesteps the normal constraints of high capital and overhead costs. This will create local high-tech jobs while producing a competitive product for export,” he said.