Will it be cloudy on my birthday in 2015? (Hot new projects part 2)

We’re not quite sure why you’d need to know that, but if you owned a solar power station you’d be very interested in the weather forecast in 2015 we assure you!

Clouds have a huge impact on solar power. In fact, photovoltaic generation can drop by up to 60 per cent in seconds when a cloud passes over the solar panels.

Cloudy days will always be around but forecasting systems enable us to plan for them and use storage and other techniques to provide a reliable electricity supply. Image: istock

Cloudy days will always be around but forecasting systems enable us to plan for them and use storage and other techniques to provide a reliable electricity supply. Image: istock

Last year CSIRO released a world first report on this cloudy issue; we recognised that intermittency (cloud covering up the sun) is a major barrier to development of large-scale solar energy power plants and recommended that a solar forecasting system would help solve the issue.

Why is it such a big deal? For two major reasons: the grid and investor confidence.

The electricity grid requires a stable, consistent supply of electricity otherwise the grid becomes very difficult to manage and things like blackouts can occur. Intermittent renewable sources such as wind and solar can be a tricky energy source – naturally they do not generate a consistent supply of energy. However, through forecasting we can predict the amount of solar power that will be generated over days, weeks and even years. In this way the grid network can plan ahead and build in the solar power to the general supply.

Investors aren’t going to invest in commercial-scale solar power until we can predict their energy yield, which is directly affected by intermittency, or the amount of clouds passing overhead. Map the clouds and you map the yield, which then gives investors a much better idea of the bang they get for their buck.

So there’s the problem… now for the solution! That’s where our $7.6 million forecasting project comes in.

Australian solar energy forecasting system (ASEFS)

Announced in mid December 2012 by the Australian Solar Institute (now ARENA), this project is huge. CSIRO and partners; the Australian Energy Market Operator (AEMO), Bureau of Meteorology, University of NSW, University of South Australia, US National Renewable Energy Laboratory, will together change the future of large-scale solar in Australia, we have no doubt!

We will be using cloud forecasting techniques and data from across Australia to provide accurate solar forecasts ranging from the next five minutes up to seven days. In addition, we will be able to provide power plants with solar predictions for up to two years in advance. Imagine knowing the weather report two years in advance!

The expert running the project is CSIRO’s Dr Peter Coppin. He was also involved in CSIRO’s wind forecasting work a few years back. We asked him a couple of questions about ASEFS:

What are you most looking forward to with this project?

The most exciting aspect of this project is bringing the best possible solar forecasting to the Australian electricity system. It means we will be able to have much more solar power on the grid that we would otherwise been able to host.

What are the benefits of working with a number of partners?

This project has been able to bring together the best scientists from Australia, USA and Germany to work with the system engineers who can actually make the clever developments happen. Together we will build the world’s most advanced operational solar forecasting system.

Check out the other blog posts on our Hot New Projects, or click here for the full list. All the projects are funded by the United States-Australia Solar Energy Collaboration.


Wes Stein interview in CSP Today

Wes Stein, manager of CSIRO’s Solar Energy Centre, was interviewed by CSP Today for an article about the new Australian solar thermal research initiative (ASTRI).

It’s a great read, we recommend a look: CSIRO embarks on cost cutting quest.


Hello sunshine! Hot new projects part 1: receivers and heliostats

We’re making solar thermal heliostats and receivers cheaper and work better.

As you may have read in a previous post, a bunch of solar projects were recently given the green light by the Australian Renewable Energy Agency (ARENA). We’re going to run a series of posts on the CSIRO-led projects so you know exactly what some of our scientists will be working on for the next few years. First up… ‘Optimisation of central receivers for advanced power cycles’.

Let’s call this the ‘Lego’ project. We’re pulling apart the most important Lego bricks that make up concentrated solar power (CSP) technology and making them cheaper and work better: the heliostats and the receiver.

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We’re breaking down the building blocks of solar to make them better and cheaper. Image: istock

Heliostats (or mirrors) make up the ‘solar field’, they concentrate the sunshine and reflect it onto a receiver (check out the process here).

Our field in Newcastle has 450 heliostats, however some fields have thousands. As you can imagine it is a major cost for a solar power plant and there are still many improvements to be made around field layout, heliostat size, performance and lifecycle. This project will investigate all of these areas to help develop the next generation of ultra low-cost heliostats and field design.

After we reduce the price of heliostats, we move to the receivers. Our receivers need to work efficiently at temperatures exceeding 800 degrees Celsius (that’s about as hot as lava spewing from a volcano), so this is a challenge. We also need to work out the best type of receiver system for the various solar field layouts.

If we can improve the efficiency with which the heliostats and receiver work together, we can reduce the cost of supplying heat to the turbine, which reduces the cost of solar power.

It’s a big job. The project is worth $3.2 million and we’ll be working with Graphite Energy in Australia plus the U.S. Department of Energy’s national laboratories. Hopefully they’re good at playing with Lego.

For more Lego fun, check out CSIRO’s new ship, the Investigator, made of Lego.


Happy Australia Day tomorrow… Given the sun is a giant star, we thought you would appreciate this look at the stars on the Australian flag.

News @ CSIRO

Australians all let us rejoice… and uncover our barbecues while draped in an Aussie flag. Tomorrow our young and free nation will pause to celebrate Temporary Tattoo Day. Every limb will be prime real estate for a tattoo of the Southern Cross, Aussie flag, or a little kangaroo with boxing gloves.

As we prepare our patriotic tattoos, let’s also consider the science behind our stellar national icon.

Aussie flag

Adorning our Australian Flag is, of course, the wonderful Southern Cross. The stars are named in the order of their brightness in the Crux constellation- the official name for the Southern Cross- according to the Greek alphabet. Alpha is the brightest, followed by Beta, Gamma, Delta and Epsilon.

As we see the Southern Cross, all of the stars appear to be the same distance away- but appearances can be deceiving. The stars of the Southern Cross lie in the same direction in the sky, but…

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Why you can’t compare apples and oranges

In today’s Newcastle Herald newspaper our blogger Dr Greg Wilson appeared in an article about our cool next generation solar cells made from dyes. We’ve previously shown you how they are made. Greg’s also holding one in the picture below.

We are developing dye-sensitised solar cells (DSC) that can be integrated into the walls, windows and roof top materials of buildings. They need to cover a much larger area to generate the same amount of electricity as the common silicon photovoltaic panel. We can make our DSC pretty colours; one day bill boards and signs might also be made of them (how cool!).

CSIRO EnCntr 202_Greg Wilson_dye cells landscape2

Solar@CSIRO blogger, Greg Wilson holding a dye-sensitised solar cell at the CSIRO Energy Centre in Newcastle. In the background you can see an entire wall made up of the cells. This installation was the largest of its kind back in 2003 when the Centre was built, and we have certainly learned a lot since then!

If you read the Newcastle Herald article and want to know a bit more, read on.

From Greg: “…it is not as easy as comparing apples with apples. Like all products, silicon solar cells come in a variety of models – these may range from low cost, compact, 5 Watt (W) modules all the way through to higher cost, high performance, modules in the 200+W range.

The product we are developing is for building integrated photovoltaics (BIPV) where one type of ‘product’ may be a type of solar glass window with a target of 80W output from the window under Standard Temperature Conditions (STC) of 25C.  On a hot day, the surface temperature of a PV module can be much higher than the air temperature, perhaps up to 60C.  The output of an 80W silicon module would drop from 80W to 69W as the temperature increased while a DSC module output could increase to 88W for the same temperature change under ideal conditions

The silicon PV modules have a negative temperature coefficient whereas organic solar cells like dye-sensitised solar cells or organic PV experience positive temperature coefficients.   Of course other factors such as price, availability and module lifetime also have to be considered in making the final technical selection.

Greg has also chatted about the topic on our CSIRO facebook page. Why not become a fan and join the conversation?


Thanks for everything ASI!

By Nick Kachel

Question: What do the following CSIRO projects have in common: solar fuels, solar field 2 and intermittency?

Answer: They were all made possible thanks to the Australian Solar Institute (ASI)*. This blog is dedicated to the ASI and is a huge ‘Thank you’ for all they have done for solar research in Australia.

The beginning of 2013 marked the transition of the ASI into the new independent Australian Renewable Energy Agency (ARENA), set up by the Australian Government.

ASI was established in 2009 to keep Australia at the forefront of solar innovation by investing in people and research that aimed to reduce the cost, and increase the competitiveness of, photovoltaic and solar thermal technologies.

ASI support has allowed a number of important CSIRO initiatives to go ahead over the years – in fact, one of ASI’s Foundation projects was the establishment of the Solar Thermal Research Hub here at the CSIRO Energy Centre in Newcastle.

Prime Minister Julia Gillard, Minister Ferguson, Member for Newcastle Sharon Grierson and Member for Shortland Jill Hall with ASI staff at the opening of the CSIRO Solar Thermal Research Hub. CSIRO National Solar Energy Centre, Newcastle, June 2011

Last December, Minster for Energy and Resources, the Hon. Martin Ferguson AM MP, announced the $87 million Australian Solar Thermal Research Initiative (ASTRI), which will be led by CSIRO, as part of ASI’s US-Australia Solar Energy Collaboration. This important initiative will ensure Australia’s solar thermal industry is ideally positioned to drive Australia to the forefront of the global solar research.

We thank the ASI team for their contribution to CSIRO solar research over the last four years, and look forward to working with ARENA in the future.

*And yes, they are all to do with the sun *rolls eyes*