The Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organization (CSIRO) announced last week that a solar thermal test plant in Newcastle, Australia was able to generate “supercritical” steam using solar power.
Supercritical steam is ultra-pressurized steam that drives some of the most advanced turbines in the world. Until now, these plants have run on fossil fuels such as coal or natural gas because solar could only achieve subcritical heat levels where bubbles formed creating inefficiencies.
The solar thermal test plant used more than 600 directional mirrors pointed at two towers with solar receivers and turbines. Researchers generated steam at a pressure of 3,400 psi and 1,058 degrees Fahrenheit.
According to CSIRO’s Energy Director, Dr. Alex Wonhas, “It’s like breaking the sound barrier; the step change proves solar has the potential to compete with the peak performance capabilities of fossil fuel sources.”
This development comes at a time when renewable energy continues to come under fire by the Abbot administration. “Imagine what our country could accomplish if our clean-energy industry had the resources, subsidies and support the Abbott Government lavishes on the non-renewable, dirty coal, mining and resources industries,” said Greens Party deputy leader Adam Bandt.