Demo small-scale solar-thermal plant delivers clean low-cost power

At Newcastle’s Wallsend Pool, renewable energy experts and local power companies have joined forces to show how innovative GRANEX™ heat engine technology can generate low-cost solar-thermal power.

The project, launched in April 2014, will demonstrate the capacity of an innovative concentrating solar thermal (CST) system to provide round-the-clock electricity, employing integrated solar-thermal storage in conjunction with a gas heater in an automated plant.

“The $1.7 million project integrates solar-thermal and GRANEX heat engine technology,” said ARENA CEO Ivor Frischknecht at the launch. “The GRANEX technology efficiently turns low-grade waste heat into electricity, which increases the amount of electricity that can be generated from the solar-thermal field.”

A 200-kilowatt solar thermal field positioned adjacent to the public swimming pool will generate 30kW of electrical output, supplying 150kW to heat the pool water. The plant was designed and constructed by local company Granite Power in collaboration with the University of Newcastle, Australian Renewable Energy Agency (ARENA) and other partners.

The project involved developing, demonstrating and testing a small-scale CST system that combines Granite Power’s GRANEX® technology with a process, known as Direct Supercritical Fluid Generation (DSFG), which produces a supercritical organic fluid through parabolic trough solar collectors.

GRANEX® enables electricity to be generated from low- and medium-grade heat sources. More efficient and cost-effective than conventional technologies, it has the capacity to employ a broad range of heat sources, and can achieve higher thermodynamic efficiency by using specialised fluids operating in the supercritical state. Using organic DSFG boosts the plant’s efficiency because the supercritical fluid can attain a greater range of temperatures, lowering costs by eliminating the need to use pricey thermal oils.

The Wallsend project, comprising a 200-kilowatt field of parabolic trough solar collectors and a GRANEX® plant, will generate 30 kilowatts of electrical output and more than 150 kilowatts of heat for the swimming pool. The CST system can provide both heating and electricity.

The plant, the first of its kind, will produce thousands of hours of valuable operating data. “It demonstrates the potential of small-scale solar thermal systems in providing cost-effective energy options, particularly for off-grid areas,” said Frischknecht

The project is intended to raise investor and consumer confidence in this emerging clean technology and act as a test-bed and launch platform for a commercial product.



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