Sandia and Stirling Energy to Build Solar Systems

November 17, 2004 by Jeff Shepard

Sandia National Laboratories (Albuquerque, NM) and Stirling Energy Systems (Phoenix, AZ) reported that they will build six new solar dishes that will make a 150 kW power plant. Each dish has 82 mirrors in the shape of a dish, and electricity is generated by focussing solar rays onto a receiver which transmits the heat energy to an engine. The six systems will provide electricity 40 homes, and researchers will experiment to determine how to integrate the systems, as well as improve reliability and performance.

Each prototype unit will cost $50,000 but, in production, the cost would drop to allow the cost of electricity to be competitive with conventional fuel technologies. The engine is filled with hydrogen and, as gas heats and cools, its pressure rises and falls. The change in pressure drives the pistons inside the engine, producing mechanical power which, in turn, drives a generator to make electricity.

The five new systems will be installed by January at Sandia¹s National Solar Thermal Test Facility where they will join a prototype system erected earlier this year. The mirrors are laminated onto a honeycomb aluminum structure. The engine will be assembled at Sandia¹s test facility using parts contracted out by SES. Each unit operates without operator intervention or on-site presence, and starts each morning and operates throughout the day, tracking the sun and responding to clouds and wind. The system can be monitored and controlled over the Internet.