Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Stirling engine solar dish farms also seek to restart Detroit

Stirling engine solar dish farms--which uses solar heat to run a Stirling engine driving a generator--could replace the fossil fuels used for electricity in the U.S. with a one-mile wide by one hundred mile long swath through the sun belt, according to Department of Energy (DoE) calculations. Now Sandia National Labs has licensed its Stirling engine solar technology to companies commercializing it by manufacturing them in old automobile factories in Detroit. Look for demonstration projects in 2010-11, and if successful, a sun-belt roll-out over the next two decades. R.C.J.

The solar power industry could help put Detroit back to work, according to Sandia National Laboratories and their commercial collaborators who plan to break ground next year on the first commercial Stirling engine-based solar energy collectors. The automotive supply chain can be used to make the collectors. Based on prototypes at the Sandia National Laboratories' National Solar Thermal Test Facility (NSTTF), the patented SunCatcher solar dishes track the sun with parabolic mirrors that reflect light directly into the Stirling engines' combustion chamber, thereby focusing solar heat into electricity from the attached generator. Tessera Solar (Houston) is constructing two pilot solar dish farms using collectors manufactured by Stirling Energy Systems (SES, Scottsdale, Calif.). The first is a 1,600-megawatt facility for the San Diego California Gas and Electric Utility scheduled to go online in 2010. The second is a Southern California Edison project for a 1,000-megawatt facility in the Mojave Desert to be launched in 2012. The pilot programs will use multiple 60-disk arrays each generating 1.5 megawatts to power about 800 homes--the largest solar generating plants in Southern California.