Journalist wowed by our ‘hot stuff’

The first reaction Newcastle Herald journalist Greg Ray had when he was invited to tour our site was ‘oh yeah, ho hum.’

Turns out, though, that it didn’t take our energy researchers long to get him excited about what we do. Read his article for his thoughts on some of the projects here at CSIRO Energy Technology including the pulverised coal engine, solar air conditioning, and SolarGas.

If your interest has been piqued too, check out our previous blog posts on solar cooling and SolarGas. And if you’d like to tour the site yourself, why not check the available dates and get in touch?

We’re all going on a solar holiday….

By Simon Hunter

Our scientists are pretty passionate about their work. So much so that they don’t just take their work home with them – they take it on holiday.

Organic printed solar cell floating in the water.

Scientist Scott Watkins recently took this holiday snap of an organic printed solar cell floating in Callala Bay on the NSW south coast. He thought the cell deserved a treat after helping secure funding for a new, $87 million Australia-US partnership in solar cell research. The funding will be used to establish the US-Australia Institute for Advanced Photovoltaics (IAP). This centre will work on solar cells – those that convert sunlight directly into electricity.

The solar cell partnership is a parallel program to the solar thermal research partnership that we reported on back in December.

For CSIRO, our involvement in the IAP represents a great chance to continue our work on manufacturing thin-film solar cells while working alongside new colleagues with deep expertise in existing, silicon-based solar cells. Who knows where this research will take us next.

You can read more about our organic solar cell work on our website and keep up to date with all of our Flexible Electronics news on twitter @FlexElectronixx

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.


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.

(Nothing we can do…) a total eclipse of the sun

There’s one type of solar intermittency that we can forecast well into the future. It’s a solar eclipse, and one was visible from parts of Australia for a brief period yesterday morning.

As with the Transit of Venus, many CSIRO staff took the chance to check out and photograph this unusual event. John Smith from CSIRO Animal, Food and Health Sciences got a great shot with his SLR of the maximum eclipse as seen from Brisbane.

Photo: John Smith using Nikon D7000 / Nikkor AF 70-300mm with custom Baader Astrozap filter. That’s one awesomely named filter.

Karl Weber, an engineer who works in CSIRO’s flexible electronics lab, got a different kind of eclipse photo in his Melbourne home. This one shows his son with the sun – a series of crescent-shaped suns, actually – projected through holes in venetian blinds and onto the wall.

Did you realise before now that the ‘dapples’ in dappled light are round only because the sun is round? A partial eclipse helps illuminate this fact.

Here in Newcastle we had grand plans to photograph our solar fields reflecting light from the partially eclipsed sun. Unfortunately, our plans were thwarted by cloud. Check back here on the blog in a few months time – we hope to have more luck when it all happens again in May.


Addendum: Robert Hollow from CSIRO Astronomy and Space Science took some stunningly beautiful photos of the full eclipse. See them and read his description of events in a dedicated post on our sister blog site, News@CSIRO.

Solar exposures

Sunlight casts an orange glow as it passes through a 6 kW panel of dye-sensitised solar cells. This panel is located in the atrium of the CSIRO Energy Technology building in Newcastle, NSW. Photograph: Paul Foley.

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