back to article CSIRO claims milestone in solar-powered steam turbines

The CSIRO is trumpeting a breakthrough in using solar energy to create “supercritical” steam suitable for powering electricity turbines. The $AU9.7 million demonstration project, at the agency's Energy Centre in Newcastle, hit a steam pressure of 23.5 megapascals (MPa) at a temperature of 570°C. That's significant, because it …


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  1. Big-nosed Pengie

    They must be stopped!

    Defund them immediately!

    1. Adam 1

      Re: They must be stopped!

      What has the CSIRO ever achieved though? (Not counting the flu vaccine, solar hot water, polymer bank notes, a stealth radar detection and WiFi)

      1. Stoneshop

        Re: They must be stopped!

        What has the CSIRO ever achieved though?

        Aquaducts? Nope.

    2. ops4096

      Re: They must be stopped!

      According to the CSIRO link embedded in the article

      "The $5.68 million research program is supported by the Australian Renewable Energy Agency (ARENA) and is part of a broader collaboration with Abengoa Solar, the largest supplier of solar thermal electricity in the world."

      According to ARENA has been defunded.

      Keep up please.

      We expect that Dr Alex Wonhas as cited in as the reigning CSIRO Energy Director will be submitting his resume and seeking employment in Beijing

  2. Sampler

    How well does it ramp?

    like current renewables (solar, wind and tide) will this also need fast ramping (and thereby low performance/higher polluting) gas powerstations to help fill in the need?

    As otherwise I like the idea, the images on the link didn't seem like they took up a great footprint either.

    1. IvyKing

      Re: How well does it ramp?

      The CSIRO solar steam turbine *might* be amenable to thermal energy storage. If so, this may allow the turbines to run for a few hours after sundown. There is a California based company proposing to store steam/water in LP tanks for use in multiple expansion steam engines.

      1. Tom 7

        Re: How well does it ramp?

        re thermal storage - its surprisingly efficient and gets more efficient the larger the volume of storage you have.

        A large underground facility in the desert of Oz is going to be cheap and relatively safe thought I wouldn’t bet on a fossil fuel company NOT getting a fracking license in the area.

        1. Anonymous Coward
          Anonymous Coward

          Re: How well does it ramp?@ Tom 7

          "A large underground facility in the desert of Oz is going to be cheap "

          I doubt it. Even if you built it in the centre of Sydney, London, or New York, the land would be a tiny part of the finished costs of high volume high temperature storage (although the ease of building in the middle of nowhere would make it a preferable choice to a currently populated location). In the middle of nowhere you also need to transport all equipment, personnel and materials.

          The fundamental problem with energy storage is that the actual energy density is low, leading to high capex costs per useable unit of energy stored. And that's stored, not produced. There's plenty of storage technologies under development (CAES, molten salt, steam, power-to-gas) but few plants operating at scale, and few development paths to take successful pilots into low cost commercial designs. Molten salt heat storage (itself a formative technology) operates at lower temperatures than supercritical turbine-friendly conditions that the Aussies have shown can be produced from insolation, so to store that you would need something new, perhaps molten metal storage. And as the storage temperature goes up, the insulation requirements and conversion technologies become more challenging and the heat losses rise, and you're into very advanced materials science for all that high temperature, high pressure kit. To go much beyond the current molten salt heat storage technologies requires both new science, and science and manufacturing of a complexity directly comparable to nuclear power plants (in which case why not build nukes in the first place).

          My personal view is that renewables are useless without storage, and we haven't yet cracked storage, ergo renewables are expensive toys. Having said that, I suspect that power to gas is the long term technology to beat, because chemical storage is an easier, cheaper, known technology, and the stored medium (either hydrogen or methane) has alternative uses in addition to power generation, such as transport fuel or feedstock gas.

    2. Eddy Ito

      Re: How well does it ramp?

      My best guess is that they have a new thermal fluid for heat transfer. Previously the best you could do was 340 - 350 ºC on the high end so that would diminish a bit on the working end. That doesn't quite reach the threshold needed. I assume this means they have something that heats the steam to 570 ºC on the steam side of the working end which is a substantial boost in the high end on the transfer side and may provide the needed boost over the edge to make a substantial gain in conversion efficiency. If they are pulling if off, major kudos but I have to ask, how'd they get there?

      I look forward to reading deeper into this discovery. Is it a newer thermal transport medium? I can only hope.

    3. Yet Another Anonymous coward Silver badge

      Re: How well does it ramp?

      Not necessarily, big power demand in Oz is for AC which tends to correlate quite well with sunshine, and desalination plants which don't need to be always on

      Not all power sources need to be 24x7

  3. Neoc

    Heaven knows there's enough sun here in Australia...

    1. Mark 85

      And that is probably why it works. Now we wait for some idiot in a place like Blighty to say: "hey we can this here..."

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        "Now we wait for some idiot in a place like Blighty to say: "hey we can this here...""

        You are behind the times!

        DECC data issued a couple of days back shows that thanks to over-generous subsidies there is now around 3.2 GW of solar PV installed in the UK, and growing at around 15% per annum. That's two typical thermal power stations (sounds good if you love renewables, gaia, hippies and pandas) but of course the thermal plant will be available all year round, whereas the solar PV struggle to achieve 9% load factors in the UK. This capacity is actually about the same as the installed solar PV capacity in Australia. There's a subtle difference, because in Oz solar PV achieves a 14% load factor, which means that an antipodean solar PV array will produce 55% more power than a similar installation in the UK.

        And just to make sure that the UK solar PV was as expensive as possible, the clowns of Westminster ensured the subsidies were directed to individual household level installations, ensuring no scale economies. That 3.2 GW is from 551,000 individual installed PV arrays. So that's at least 551,000 individual surveys, scaffoldings, connections, sale & warranties, 551,000 inefficient short lived consumer grade inverters, 551,000 arrays mostly with no cleaning or maintenance regime, 551,000 export meters installed, and 551,000 electricity customers getting fat subsidies off of the rest of the electricity consumers.

        1. BlueGreen


          Yes I love renewables/pandas/etc and have argued the point many times here. You're different in giving stats not bullshit. I'd rather argue with the likes of you than the wishes-aren't-horses-they're-unicorns crew that hangs around. So upvoted.

          Where I might quibble is you're looking at the supply side rather than the demand side - but whatever, well said.

  4. Stoneshop


    They only did this so they could finally stop bringing coals to Newcastle.

  5. Hud Dunlap

    What about the birds?

    Towers like that have been known to fry birds that wander into the path.

    1. Tom 7

      Re: What about the birds?

      towers tend to kill birds anyway - in fact anything with windows does.

      1. Faux Science Slayer

        End this Green Meanie MADNESS ! ! !

        The ignorant 'solar tower' in Nevada is listed on aviation navigation charts as a 'Visual Hazard' as flying anywhere near this monster causes temporary blindness. But BIRDS do not have these navigation aids and daily birds that fly too close to the tower focus point are FRIED in mid-flight, and the ones who fly anywhere in the focus zone are blinded, left to a death by starvation of predation.

        Much like the prophetic Beatle film, "Yellow Submarine" the Green Meanies are aiding the GLOVE, [anagram for 'Government-LOVE] in the destruction of humanity, civilization and all life on this planet.

        1. Sir Runcible Spoon

          Re: End this Green Meanie MADNESS ! ! !

          "Much like the prophetic Beatle film, "Yellow Submarine" the Green Meanies are aiding the GLOVE"

          I must have been on Lucy when I watched it then, because they all looked Blue to me!

        2. Sorry that handle is already taken. Silver badge

          Re: End this Green Meanie MADNESS ! ! !

          Is the sun listed as a visual hazard?

          How can an inanimate object be ignorant?

          Did you forget to use the joke icon?

          So many questions.

      2. Robert Helpmann??

        Re: What about the birds?

        ...anything with windows...tend to kill birds...

        Especially if it is running Windows 8.

    2. Adam 1

      Re: What about the birds?

      This is a good point. This thing looks potentially fatal to any passing bird, which is entirely unlike hydro electric dams and open cut coal mines which are completely safe to local fauna.

      1. James Hughes 1

        Re: What about the birds?

        Not as fatal as trying to fly over Malta.

        1. Anonymous Coward
          Anonymous Coward

          Re: What about the birds?

          Or Southern Italy in general. If the EU wanted to make itself popular, it would threaten to throw out both countries unless they stopped allowing the shooting of migratory birds. There's an awful lot of RSPB members.

      2. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: What about the birds?

        I assume that's irony, given the effects on fish of dams and the pollution caused by open cast coal mining. Upvoted anyway.

        I doubt it will take birds long to learn to avoid the big shiny scary things. For one thing, they are a lot easier to see than e.g. cats, and for another there's quite a lot of stray light coming up.

  6. Killing Time

    Woo Hoo!

    Errh.. I wouldn't start popping the champagne corks just yet. Whilst this achievement is admirable, it's one thing to hit a peak pressure and temperature but another to generate the mass flow to do enough economical 'work' to build a power plant around.

    Scrub that, what was I thinking, that's what subsidies are for!

    1. Sorry that handle is already taken. Silver badge

      Re: Woo Hoo!

      Everyone else gets subsidised, so why not.

  7. Trevor_Pott Gold badge

    So these people will all be taken out back and shot by the conservative Oz gov't then?

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