Stirling Energy Systems (SES) has a way of wrangling itself into the pixels of treehugger fairly often (see here, here or here). Their solar thermal technology, a mix between solar concentrators and sterling engines, has proven itself commercially and technologically one of the more exciting utility-scale renewable energy platforms.
Yesterday, along with Sandia National Laboratories they announced a new world record for a "solar-to-grid system conversion efficiency " of 31.25 percent over the previous record of 29.4 percent.
Sprouting like dandelions in my garden, 70,000 of these units are expected to pop up in the desert Southwest to meet some of the largest solar power contracts on earth, totaling 1,750 megawatts (MW) of power.
"Gaining two whole points of conversion efficiency in this type of system is phenomenal," says Bruce Osborn, SES president and CEO. "This is a significant advancement that takes our dish engine systems well beyond the capacities of any other solar dish collectors and one step closer to commercializing an affordable system."
The solar dish works by concentrating solar radiation onto a receiver, which transmits heat to the 'hot end' in a sterling engine. The engine drives a generator, which then makes an electrical current.
The world record was in part due to advances in technology, such as a more effective radiator, and a high-efficiency generator. But perhaps the biggest help was a 'perfect storm' of perfect weather. A crisp cold day, that was also very bright, helped drive the sterling energy to new heights.
"This exciting record shows that using these dishes will be a cost-effective and environmentally friendly way of producing power," Osborn says. "SES is actively engaged in the commercialization of the system, called the 'SunCatcher,' including continuing to prepare it for mass production, completing project site development and preconstruction activities, and establishing partnerships with substantial manufacturing and industrial organizations to develop a cost-effective manufacturing process and supply chain. The demonstrated high efficiency means more energy is generated for the given investment, lowering the cost of the energy delivered."