New design could be future of solar thermal

Consumers may be getting a glimpse of the future of solar thermal applications in the form of a recently unveiled collection dish.

The new design was unveiled by Stirling Energy Systems and Tessera Solar at Sandia National Laboratories’ National Solar Thermal Test Facility. The SunCatcher dishes are expected to go into commercial production in 2010.

Sandia project manager Chuck Andraka said that six of the first-generation solar thermal products have been generating up to 150 kilowatts of power during the day, adding that "every part of the new system has been upgraded to allow for a high rate of production and cost reduction."

The newly designed system uses mirrors attached to a parabolic dish that focuses sunlight onto a receiver, which sends heat to a Stirling engine, which in this case is said to be a sealed system filled with hydrogen. The heating and cooling of the gas apparently creates pressure changes that in turn drive a generator to make electricity.

Stirling engines were developed nearly a century ago but continue to offer above-average energy efficiency. The new technology may also have the potential to reduce the amount of water that some solar thermal applications currently use, making the technology more feasible than ever for dry, desert climates where sunlight tends to be strongest.

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Author: Tom Staples

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Posted in: Solar Energy

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