Concentrated solar power, or CSP, is a pretty extraordinary technology; it uses an array of mirrors to focus the sun’s energy onto a central tower, where the heat is then turned into electricity. There are some estimates that CSP could provide a quarter of the world’s electricity needs by 2050. But there’s one major setback: cost. Current CSP projects, such as Ivanpah in California are massive in scale and require expensive materials installed by a large skilled labor force. But a team at one South African university is hoping they can change this with the creation of “plonkable” CSP technology that is cheap and easy to install.


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As Jeffrey Barbee reports in the Guardian, Paul Gauché has founded the Solar Thermal Research Group at Stellenbosch University to develop and test this new approach to CSP. The custom-shaped mirrors that concentrate the sun’s energy onto a central tower are known as heliostats. These heliostats are generally speaking very large and expensive to produce, and are installed onto poured concrete bases where they are connected with expensive wiring. As such, the technology isn’t particularly scalable.

Related: South Africa approves $5.4 billion in renewable energy projects to provide 1400MW by 2016

But Gauché’s “plonkable” heliostats would change that; as Gauché explained to the Guardian “Plonkable means that from factory to installation you can just drop them down on to the ground and they work.” Which would mean no concrete to be poured, instead just a simple two man crew to set up a network of steel frames and “plonk” the heliostats on top.

The Solar Thermal Research Group is currently working on a pilot project of the technology, Helio100, which has 100 heliostats of 2.2 sq meters each and can generate 150 Kilowatts (kW) of power in total, enough to power around 10 houses. And already they are marking some notable successes-the cost of the power from Helio100 is cheaper than diesel-something Google tried, and failed to accomplish with their own CSP experiments.

Gauché hopes that their pilot project will be fully functional by October of this year, and then they will work to refine the technology at which point economies of scale will take over, and they will, perhaps, have created the first affordable, small-scale CSP system.

Via The Guardian

Photos (c) Jeffrey Barbee, Alliance Earth