South African prototype may solve solar power problem

August 27, 2015

By thinking small, a group of South African scientists may have pioneered solar technology that has stumped Internet giant Google.

The Helio100 project, based at Stellenbosch University in the Western Cape province, is a cost-effective heliostat that harnesses solar power to generate electricity.

A heliostat uses mirrors or lenses to reflect sunlight, concentrating the solar energy onto a receiver tower, which then uses centuries old steam power to generate electricity, explains Sebastian-James Bode, a 28-year-old research engineer working on the South African project.

Until now, building heliostat plants has been prohibitively expensive. In 2011, Google announced that it halted its own heliostat project after researchers could not design an inexpensive model.

"At this point, other institutions are better positioned than Google to take this research to the next level," Google said back then in a statement, making its findings freely available in a 10-page report.

Beginning their work in April 2014, the Helio100 team came up with a much smaller heliostat made of six triangular mirrors that does not need a concrete foundation. They've also devised wireless, smart positioning technology that ensures the beam of light is always on target.

This compact construction, makes it "plonkable," said Bode, meaning it can be plonked down, without only two people needed to set it up.

The device was designed specifically with South Africa in mind, where electricity blackouts have become common, he added.

The next step is to produce the heliostat on an industrial scale, and international investors are already interested, he said. The device is aimed at large-scale production, to generate electricity or heat. It can also be used with other renewable energy sources, like wind and rooftop solar panels.

"The solution for South Africa, and indeed the world's energy problems, is not a single technology that will do everything," he said.

Explore further: Google can tell you if solar roof panels will pay off

More information: helio100.sun.ac.za/

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13 comments

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Sonhouse
not rated yet Aug 27, 2015
It seems to be made of these triangular units with 6 reflectors in each sub unit. Maybe 1 meter squared per mirror, so 6 M^2 and it looks like there are about 100 or so mirrors which would be about 600 square meters of reflectors, he could get 600,000 odd watts delivered to the collector and then with say 25% efficiency that would mean over 100,000 watts at least for 8 hours a day or maybe 4 kwhr per day out the door. That is just looking at the image so it might be a lot different if the size of each mirror was specified.

One thing about the image: It is clearly not collecting sunlight since all the mirrors are pointed straight up. It begs the question of how he steers each mirror, I don't see any mechanics or electronics on the unit in the forefront of the image.
gkam
3 / 5 (2) Aug 27, 2015
No real information here.
Whydening Gyre
not rated yet Aug 27, 2015
Would a parabolic mirror be useful here? Or even just a single curve one?
dblmoose
5 / 5 (1) Aug 27, 2015
They are not generating Kwhrs Sonhouse. The article clearly calls it a heliostat. It generates BTUs in order to boil water.
Ojorf
3 / 5 (2) Aug 27, 2015
More info and some publications for those who are interested: http://sterg.sun....cations/
foolspoo
not rated yet Aug 28, 2015
Such cynics. This is a news article with citation. A very interesting and exciting project here.
antialias_physorg
5 / 5 (1) Aug 28, 2015
Would a parabolic mirror be useful here?

Not needed, and they would up the cost (planar mirrors are a lot easier/cheaper to manufacture).
If you follow the link at the bottom of the article you'll see that the convergence is already very good.

Nice application of KISS.
yoatmon
not rated yet Aug 30, 2015
Why rectangular mirrors and not triangular shaped? They could all be the same size and the reflecting surface would increase considerably.
docile
Aug 30, 2015
This comment has been removed by a moderator.
docile
Aug 30, 2015
This comment has been removed by a moderator.
docile
Aug 30, 2015
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antialias_physorg
5 / 5 (1) Aug 30, 2015

I don't see, how this tiny solar experiment can be effective and cheaper more than for example well optimized solar plant in the Mojave Desert. It's only cheaper, because its small

That it's cheap and small is the whole point. There are many places in Africa that are not connected to a main grid (the place is HUGE. Look at a globe). But small, out-of-the-way places do not have neither the funds nor the access to tools/materials to put down the infrastructure (concrete slabs and whatnot) for something like a Mojave desert installation by themselves.

This is a simple/elegant solution that can be setup anywhere with minimal investment and maintenance and provides adequate power to help in rural areas (e.g. powering cellphone tower to keep them connected with the rest of the world or small irrigation systems, pumps, power tools, ...)

Many people in Africa pay a large percentage of their income for fuels (coal, gas). This could mitigate that problem.
Lex Talonis
not rated yet Aug 31, 2015
If only they converted to christianity, then Jesus would supply them all with free blessed super light, from his heavenly temples lighting system, every day for ever.

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