US Utilities throws Billions at Australian Solar Tech

Discussion in 'Science' started by RnR, Oct 2, 2007.

  1. RnR

    RnR Member

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    http://www.abc.net.au/news/stories/2007/10/02/2048420.htm
    <sigh>

    I guess scientists are like entertainers. They have to go overseas to make a name of themselves before folk will pay them the attention that they deserve.
     
  2. Submariner

    Submariner Member

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    Damn, cheap thermal solar power that can supply baseload power and we let the USA get it, before us. Apparently they have figured out how to store the steam for long periods of time.
     
  3. Goth

    Goth Grumpy Member

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    Personally, i'm quite skeptical that it can significantly displace the need for coal, natural gas or nuclear, which currently make up the majority of the electricity supply. But I support throwing money at it, and i'm watching such developments closely, to see how it goes. If it goes well, hopefully the money will appear for more projects, and hopefully, it will start displacing nasty coal-fired energy.
     
  4. wvxman

    wvxman Member

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    America has large private institutions and businesses which have the capital to throw at extensive solar research and development. Scientists have been saying for decades that solar power has enormous potential. We were at the forefront of solar panel research from around the late 70's until the early 90's, and since not a great amount of research has been done.

    It's good news, because like most things Australia tends to follow the trend or pattern set by EU or USA. A mix of solar and other various renewables, as well as nuclear (provided that we're running on 4th gen nuclear reactors), would provide the greatest flexibility/reliability and be relatively inexpensive compared to straight renewables.
     
  5. Eggbert69

    Eggbert69 Member

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    How big of a solar panel plant would you need to power Australia? Just curious.. Can't seem to find a definate answer from the enviro sites who just say its a viable option blah blah etc..
     
  6. Menthu_Rae

    Menthu_Rae Member

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    I did some feasibility work on a 30 MW Solar Thermal design... anyway, you don't store the steam nowadays - you store the working fluid. Which in the case of most Solar Thermal stations is a molten salt.

    http://engnet.anu.edu.au/DEresearch/solarthermal/high_temp/concentrators/basics.php

    Australia uses ~255,000 GWh/year. You'd need 58,220 MWe running for 12hrs a day, 365 days a year or in other words- you'd need about 330 of these - so 660 km^2. If their claims are true, that is.*

    *Note this doesn't take into account the differences in solar insolation during the various months of the year, efficiencies, losses through the grid, etc etc etc
     
    Last edited: Oct 2, 2007
  7. rtscts

    rtscts Member

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    Note that (some? most? all?) Americans pay for their power according to demand throughout the day, so there's greater incentive to increase peaking capacity (for which solar is much better suited than baseload). The situation is bad enough that some users have taken on storing their own power overnight when its cheaper, often in the form of chilled water for use in A/C.
     
  8. Menthu_Rae

    Menthu_Rae Member

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    Yeah, it is a good solution. Only problems at the moment are the cost, storing energy and cleaning dust off the mirrors.

    I reckon Aus should have a giant solarthermal array in the middle of the desert, and a few nuclear reactors in each state - that combination would keep us going for a long time to come with very little greenhouse gas emissions.
     
  9. mhgarage

    mhgarage Member

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    It's fantastic technology. I have family working in Ausra (SHP), and the plants are just amazing.

    Shows how little the Australian government cares - they received basically nothing for 10 years. They're not short of money now.
     
  10. dfg

    dfg (Banned or Deleted)

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    i brought this up as we had a German student just stay with us, he told me Germany's approach is to shut down their nukes and actually do something similar to the US as well.
     
  11. Goth

    Goth Grumpy Member

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    That's exactly it.

    Look at the Mars rovers for example - they were originally only expected to be usable for 12 months or something, then they'd be permanently useless, simply because dust builds up on the solar cells, and they no longer work.

    They were recently fortunate that a strong wind storm removed some of the dust, buying them some extra time.

    If we have hundreds of square kilometers of solar collector, which is what it will take to make any significant contribution to national electricity supply, who or what is going to clean the dust off it?

    There's also the fact that hundreds of square kilometers of pristine desert land and habitat (and aboriginal land - we can't just steal it!) essentially needs to be paved over - the greenies aren't going to like that.


    How you store the energy - in a scalable, affordable, clean, safe and environmentally sound way - is also another big question. Heating molten salt might be the way to do it, i don't know. Chemical batteries aren't scalable or environmentally friendly.
     
    Last edited: Oct 2, 2007
  12. Menthu_Rae

    Menthu_Rae Member

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    Keep in mind the mars rovers are photovoltaic (turns photons into an electric potential difference), not solar thermal (reflects sunshine to heat up a fluid).

    Granted what you said is still true, dust is going to have an effect - but by how much, I'm not sure... it could potentially be a lot less than the photovoltaic cells.

    Not all the collectors have to be in the same area. Good spots are of course in the central desert, but locations like Mt Isa, Townsville, Broken Hill/western NSW are also good choices. Anyone know much about aboriginal land claims in those areas?
     
  13. OP
    OP
    RnR

    RnR Member

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    Ausra use plain water.

    Animation on how their stuff works at the link;
    http://www.ausra.com/technology/

    Its actually remarkable low tech. Not a PV module in sight. This stuff should last for donkey's years, and possible the reason why they claim to be able to match coal's electricity price.

    I doubt the Aboriginals will have a problem with such an installation. Maybe pay them a 1% kickback. Afterall these installations are easy to remove in 2050 when fusion comes online, unlike underground compressed liquid co2 or nuclear waste.
     
    Last edited: Oct 2, 2007
  14. rees

    rees Member

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    yeah that's because the Australian government have better things to spend tax payers dollars on, like internet filters and advertising to tell us how awesome they are.
     
  15. Menthu_Rae

    Menthu_Rae Member

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    How are they going to keep water above boiling point for >8hrs? :confused:
     
  16. Aegis

    Aegis Member

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    A strong wind storm ON MARS. That would be equivalent to what... a light breeze on earth?
     
  17. OP
    OP
    RnR

    RnR Member

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    Unsure, but steam technology is pretty old. They claim to be able to store 20 hours worth of heat/steam to drive their steam turbine. They have a few pdf's on their site... they are straining my dialup access :p

    Edit: from one of the pdf's, the steam is stored at 50 bar, 280 degs.
     
    Last edited: Oct 2, 2007
  18. mhgarage

    mhgarage Member

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    Goth, as a scientist your skepticism of the 'unproven' is understandable. The environmental impact of the ausra plants is far smaller than you'd think. I can't tell you many details because of confidentiality, but the storage of heat is in superheated steam in a very low cost set of canisters/pipes, and the systems are regenerative. The land required is expected to be comparable to strip mines - except we can choose to put them anywhere. One has been operating in Australia for several years - trouble free. You don't have to burn anything either.

    I can also tell you that the plants are closed systems, i.e. unlike nuclear plants there is is no input/output of water required.

    This is an amazingly promising technology, only several months into a 'cashed up' R&D environment, with proven results already. I can't think many other power technologies have done so well.

    Finally, the dust is not a problem (has been taken care of). Certainly, the maintenance is lower than any properly maintained nuclear or coal plant. FYI (and before the inevitable hailstorm question!) the mirrors are bulletproof - tested the dangerous way.
     
  19. Goth

    Goth Grumpy Member

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    Sounds very cool. :thumbup:

    With regards to that point, I'm very interested in the idea of using a closed-cycle gas turbine, i.e. Rankine cycle, to generate energy directly from a Helium-cooled HTGR Pebble-Bed type nuclear reactor, although i guess a similar idea can even be applied to coal-fired plants too - removes the need for water, and increases efficiency.
     
  20. mhgarage

    mhgarage Member

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    It is very cool! I guess the advantages over nuclear are:

    1) Cost of fuel (free anyone?)
    2) Lack of mining required
    3) No waste to store/process (which is very expensive hence the France/Germany shutdown
    4) Greener perception = not as much nimby-ism
     

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