Supersized Solar Dish Passes Field Test

Southwest Solar Technologies said the field testing of its “solar-turbine power system” at its research facility in Phoenix was successful. The test, which followed the commissioning of the system in March, provides the first real-life validation of the company’s prototype system, and should provide the data necessary to commercialize the technology.

Southwest Solar’s particular brand of concentrating solar power (CSP) uses a 320-square-foot mirrored parabolic dish that tracks the sun over the course of the day. The heat is reflected to a thermal receiver filled with compressed air, which, once super-heated, powers an air-based turbine, producing electricity. The dish is the largest of its kind in North America.

image via Southwest Solar

According to Southwest Solar, the test achieved significant operational advantages over other CSP systems, such as steam-based trough and power towers that require water cooling, and over typical photovoltaic technologies, which are intermittent in nature. The air-based turbine does not require water and can be constructed from distributed-scale up to any size. To increase reliability, the turbine may be hybridized with a fuel-based system to generate power during cloudy periods and evening hours.

“The company believes that integrating a gas turbine engine with a solar dish concentrator has never been achieved on this large scale,” said CEO Brad Forst. “This is an enormous milestone in our development program. This proof of concept sets the stage for the commercialization of our technology which is well under way.”

Lauren Craig is a writer and consultant living in Seattle, WA. She holds an M.S. in International Development from Tulane University, and is co-founder of Sustainable Systems Integrators, LLC., an employee-owned solar energy design and installation firm in New Orleans, LA. She is also certified in PV design and installation by the North American Board of Certified Energy Practitioners (NABCEP).

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