Guest post – Mark Twidell

The following is a guest post for the Solar@CSIRO blog by Mark Twidell, Executive Director of the Australian Solar Institute (ASI).

Australia’s on-sun!

The official launch of the CSIRO Solar Thermal Research Hub at the National Solar Energy Centre in Newcastle was an exciting moment – particularly for those who have been in solar for a long time. The Hub now features a new concentrating solar tower which is capable of collecting 1.2 MW of thermal energy and was developed as an ASI Foundation project.

A few points I took away from Saturday’s event:

Firstly, Australia is without a doubt playing a vital role in the global challenge of making clean energy affordable and reducing emissions. Today our world leading solar thermal researchers have reminded us in a very big, tangible way, how Australia can maximise the potential of one of the most abundant and free energy sources in the world- the sun. If we can continue to drive investment, through projects such as the CSIRO solar research facility, to build scale and accelerate technology development we will continue to drive down the costs of solar. A future energy mix where solar has a real and significant role to play is not too far away.

Secondly, Australia is well known internationally as a leader in solar technology development. Today confirmed the ASI’s approach is a very good one. With the right support — strategic investment of commonwealth funding and brokering of local and international relationships — our leading researchers can achieve extraordinary outcomes. With this facility, supported by a $5 million ASI foundation grant, CSIRO researchers have developed a solar tower capable of generating up to 1500°C, meaning low cost, high efficiency solar energy generation. But this is only the start. Over the next year the facility will start to show how we can generate electricity directly from the sun heating air and store this for night time use, solving yet another piece of the puzzle to make solar a real and viable energy option.

This brings me to my third point. The research-industry partnership is critical. Already the ASI’s investment has attracted partnerships with two of the world’s most prominent energy organisations — Japan’s Mitsubishi Heavy Industries and Spain’s Abengoa Solar — helping our researchers take their research further along the innovation chain. Laboratory experiments are a critical step on the innovation chain, but not enough for Australia to realise its full energy potential. Bringing together the imagination and expertise of researchers with the business acumen of industry is absolutely critical to deploying solar on a large scale.

I’m sure the many readers of this blog who have been in the solar industry for some time and seen the continual developments in the industry will agree we’re really on-sun this week!

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