A technology company in Sweden has installed a solar power plant, which it claims is the most efficient in the world today. It has even managed to double the efficiency of solar panels, making them more viable for general population in the near future.
Installed by Ripasso Energy in South Africa’s sun-soaked Kalahari Desert, the solar electricity generation machine features a pair of huge, 12-meter mirror dishes that have been synched with Stirling Engine – a closed-cycle regenerative heat engine that was invented way back in 1816. The contraption uses trapped gas instead of water to propel the internal pistons and flywheel. To keep the Stirling Engine in motion, the dishes are hooked to a sun-tracking device that rotates the dishes to capture the maximum amount of solar rays and focus them into a specific point that gets super-heated and drives the gas.
Though Stirling Engines might look primitive, they have been steadily adopted by the Swiss Military for use in their submarines. These engines are claimed to be an ideal companion for renewable energy systems because they can function with almost any heat source, are quiet to run, and don’t take up much space.
Owing to their relatively diminutive footprint, the system requires just two hectares to produce a megawatt of energy. Having licensed the technology from the military, Ripasso Energy has been testing the system for the past four years. The company hopes the desert sun could offer ideal readings about the efficiency of the design. This week, the company has been able to set a new world record, reported the Guardian.
Conventional solar panels practically turn about 15 percent of the solar energy that strikes them into electricity. But Ripasso Energy has managed to push the efficiency to 34 percent. Independent tests have confirmed the design to be super-efficient. The system in its current iteration can generate 75 to 85 megawatt hours of electricity a year. From an ecological perspective, the solar plant can prevent about 81 tons of carbon dioxide being released into the atmosphere via coal burning.
Though the solar energy plant is breaking efficiency records, the company is concerned about the real world applications, especially in regions where sunlight isn’t available in such abundance as the Kalahari Desert. Fortunately, solar panels are improving thanks to rapid innovation and their ability to capture sunlight even in cloudy or non-optimal conditions is getting better. Hence the company is hopeful of developing large-scale commercially deployable solar energy plants.
[Image Credit | Ripasso Energy]