The $5.3 million National Solar Energy Centre is based at the CSIRO Energy Centre, home to the largest high-concentration solar array in the southern hemisphere, and is the only multi-collector solar research facility in the country.
The NSEC is said to comprise of three main elements:
• A high-concentration tower solar array that uses 200 mirrors to generate more than 500kW of energy and is capable of achieving peak temperatures of over 1000C;
• A linear concentrator solar array that generates a hot fluid at temperatures around 250C to power a small turbine generator; and
• A control room facility that will house the centre's communications and control systems and serve as an elevated viewing platform.
The linear array and turbine generator combine two technologies to produce low cost electricity powered by the sun – suitable for generating energy in remote areas.
At peak capacity, the facility's solar installations could power more than 100 homes, according to federal Environment Minister Ian Campbell, who officiated at the launch.
“The NSEC will be a showcase for solar thermal technologies and play a key role in CSIRO's ongoing research into efficient, low-emission energy generation," Campbell said.
The facility is an initiative of the CSIRO Energy Transformed Flagship, which aims to halve greenhouse gas emissions; double the efficiency of new energy generation, supply and end use; and position Australia for a future hydrogen economy.
The NSEC is supported by the International Science Linkages program, established under a federal innovation initiative, Backing Australia's Ability, with part funding from the New South Wales Government's Sustainable Energy Research & Development Fund.
Energy Transformed Flagship director Dr John Wright said that partnerships with industry and international researchers were expected to play an important role in the research performed at the facility.
“The Energy Transformed Flagship is very keen to use the NSEC to promote collaboration through shared use of the facility by Australian and international researchers," he said.
CSIRO Division Energy Technology chief Dr David Brockway said that hybrid research using one of Australia's greatest natural resources, natural gas, was likely to provide improved energy efficiencies.
“The NSEC will enable us to produce something called SolarGas – a greenhouse-friendly gas that has about 26 percent more energy than natural gas," Brock said.
NSEC project manager Wes Stain said the SolarGas technology could offer a "transitional pathway" from fossil fuel dependence to sustainable energy: “It provides all the benefits of solar energy with the convenience of gas."
Senator Campbell said that technologies such as those being researched at the NSEC were an essential component of Australia's efforts to meet growing energy demand in an environmentally responsible manner.
“Australia's energy demand is expected to double by 2050," Campbell said.
“It is essential that we meet this demand with low-emissions technologies as part of a broader, multi-track approach to addressing climate change – solar energy will be an important part of this mix.
“Australia has an abundance of renewable energy resources and parts of Australia receive the highest levels of solar radiation on the planet. It is important that we focus on removing the barriers and impediments that prevent more people from using solar technologies."