Large-scale solar power has long been a dream, primarily because of space and manufacturing constraints. However, due to a scientific breakthrough at Stellenbosch University, a viable concentrated solar power system (CSP) may soon be the answer to South Africa’s electricity woes.
There have been other CSP systems developed around the world, for example, the Ivanpah Solar Electric Generating System in the California Mojave Desert. The problem with such plants is that the ratio of energy generated over time compared to actual operating hours is only 31%. This requires a huge amount of heliostats (large mirrors) and space to make it feasible.
The Stellenbosch project is called the Helio100 system, and former strategic planner at Intel, Paul Gauché, is now the founding director of Stellenbosch’s Solar Thermal Research Group which developed the technology.
What makes Helio 100 unique is that is solves the size problem; consisting of only 100 heliostat panels occupying 2.2 square meters each, these together can generate 150kW – enough to power a small factory.
Additionally, the system is easy to install and portable. Although it fulfills the same function as a generator right now, it could be upscaled to something much more significant in future.
Gauché, explained in media interviews that the system is expected to be fully functional by the end of October this year. He also predicted that once the technology is perfected, economies of scale will follow to possibly create the first affordable, small-scale, consumer-friendly CSP system.
Added benefits are that the system requires no major construction and would use local labour.