Revolutionary Solar Breakthrough Threatened By Budget Cuts

In a world where climate change is devastating the landscape, efficient green energy technologies have taken a forefront in the public eye. While solar power is already helping run our world, it has yet to meet the expectations required to compete with oil and coal.

In current commercial solar energy plants prices are sadly higher per Megawatt hour to produce than they are for PV or wind. No matter how much better it is for our global warming situation as long as prices drive the market green energy will suffer at the hands of expense. A team in Australia’s CSIRO, the countries leading scientific research institute.has developed a method they believe could break that barrier.

CSIRO’s Energy Director, Dr Alex Wonhas said “It’s like breaking the sound barrier; this step change proves solar has the potential to compete with the peak performance capabilities of fossil fuel sources,” when talking about the solar energy breakthrough. Currently, solar plants use subcritical systems, which impairs their effectiveness when compared to other energy sources.

So, what exactly makes the tech work? Water is heated with solar radiation and produces steam and the steam is highly pressurized. 600 mirrors were used to achieve a temperature of 570°C, which is common for commercial solar plants, but the needed pressure broke barriers at 23.5Mpa. Wonhas is very optimistic about the applications, “Instead of relying on burning fossil fuels to produce supercritical steam, this breakthrough demonstrates that the power plants of the future could instead be using the free, zero emission energy of the sun to achieve the same result.” There’s just one problem.

The Australian Renewable Energy Agency (ARENA) funded the research with 5.68 million, but they won’t be able to continue to do so. The australian government has decided to discontinue the program. Giles Parkinson of Renew Economy has said of the decision:

“I watch very carefully what’s going on in the rest of the world. I’ve been to Germany, I’ve been to other parts of Europe, I’ve been to the US. They’re all going fast forward on this and in Australia the rhetoric seems to be that nobody else is doing anything and nor should we, but it’s just not true. In the US they’re investing billions and billions of dollars.”

Such discouragement has had private investors consider pulling from the project altogether. The lack of funding without doubt has affected CSIRO, the tech company responsible for the breakthrough, as they have announced that they will be shifting their attention back to coal and shale. That’s what happens when you take a 103 million dollar budget cut that loses 500 jobs over the next four years. It’s not just solar energy that’s being dragged down either, CSIRO also is shedding weight in the neurosciences and geothermal energies.

Hopefully, this technology will find new life elsewhere, because even if climate change were a sham, cleaner breathing air and competitive price options for energy never hurt anyone.

photo credit: CSIRO

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