The partners will also look to develop a Wi-Fi controlled system to manage heliostats remotely.
The trial includes 25 heliostats each measuring 7.2 square metre and a 16-metre-tall concentrated solar photo-voltaic (PV) receiver, which can generate about 30 kW of electricity per hour.
Heliostats concentrate sunlight onto a tower, and depending on the type of receiver unit, either heat molten salt to generate steam to power turbines to generate electricity or convert sunlight directly into electricity using a high efficiency solar cell receiver.
The tower at the trial site can be adapted to trial both direct PV and molten salt technologies.
While the heliostats at the solar field are currently made of traditional glass, the researchers are working on adapting South Australian thin film coating technology to produce lightweight and durable polycarbonate mirrors.
It is not the first time the University of South Australia has partnered with industry to commercialise its world-leading thin film coating technology.
The group of researchers partnered with SMR Technologies, a car mirror manufacturer in Adelaide’s southern suburbs, to commercialise the world’s first fully plastic auto mirror in 2012. About 4 million of the light, shatter-proof mirrors have since been exported around the globe.
An adaptation of this technology has already begun with the long-term goal of developing tough, ultra-high reflectivity mirror coatings on polycarbonate to make cheaper and more efficient heliostats that stay cleaner for longer.
Issues with glass heliostats include their weight, which often require extensive footings, transport costs and lack of Australian-made supplies.
Glass heliostats also usually need to be assembled on site, adding to construction costs.
University of South Australia Deputy Vice Chancellor Research and Innovation Tanya Monro said the field would allow Heliostat-SA to generate a rapid cycle of testing and product development.
Professor Monro said the site would also build on existing technologies developed by the CSIRO at its test facility near Newcastle in New South Wales.
“It was estimated that 5 gigawatts of solar thermal power was installed worldwide in 2015 and it’s predicted to be 22 gigawatts by 2025 and the heliostats are an absolutely vital component of this,” she said.
“Currently all of those heliostats installed worldwide use glass with a thin layer of silver located at the rear of the glass so the light from the sun needs to travel twice through the glass material – the glass is also heavy, fragile and hard to install.
“We believe if we can use some of the innovations in this area to make plastic heliostats where the coatings are on the front they will be lighter, less fragile, cheaper and stay cleaner for longer.”
The test site comes at a critical time for South Australia following the announcement in August that global company Solar Reserve would build a 150MW solar thermal plant, Aurora, in the state’s north.
It also coincides with the winding down of the state’s automotive industry. Australian car manufacturing officially ends next week with the closure of Holden’s Elizabeth plant just a few kilometres from the solar field.