Solar power group seeks backers for breakthrough technology

Solarmundo, a Belgium-based group, claimed this week to have developed solar power technology capable of competing with fossil and nuclear fuels in commercial power generation. The group is now seeking financial backers to build a 50 MW power plant using the technology and to market the technology worldwide.

After several years of development work, Solarmundo claims to have refined parabolic trough collector technology, which has been used successfully in California for many years, to create a high-performance yet simple power plant system.

The technology developed by Solarmundo is a solar thermal power plant. A large field of mirrors focuses direct sunlight onto a horizontal solar absorber tube. At temperatures of up to 500 ௿½C (900 F), this generates steam that is fed to a turbine to generate electrical power. In principal, this type of power plant can be located in almost any sunny region of the world, including southern European countries such as Spain and Greece.

The technology has been successfully tested in trials on a 27,000-square-foot (2500 m2) pilot plant at Li௿½, Belgium but Solarmundo now believes that its modular architecture can be used to economically operate plants ranging from 50 MW to 800 MW.

The conceptual creator of the Solarmundo technology is Lieven Ven, who took over the Israeli company, LUZ, in the early 1990s. It installed the solar power plants in California. Mr. Ven was able to draw upon this experience in its development work. “For the new technology however,” says Ven, “I had to start again from zero, four years ago, with new partners who shared my vision of a totally new technology, able to reduce costs and price levels dramatically.”

Overall, the Solarmundo system is simple and modular. “Our maxim in developing the system was ‘keep it simple, make it cheap'”, says Jacques de Lalaing, Director of Solarmundo NV.

“Simplifying the power plant engineering has made it possible to reduce the investment cost by over 50% compared with parabolic trough technology”, says Miguel Sureda, President of Solarmundo NV. For a plant located in Egypt, this would mean power generation costs of between 4 eurocents per kWh for 400 MW or 800 MW power plants and 7.5 eurocents per kWh in a 50 MW power plant, depending on the size of the plant. For the first time, this makes solar power competitive with conventionally generated power. “This means the breakthrough for solar energy is just around the corner”, Sureda continues.

That Solarmundo’s new solar power plant technology has enormous potential for the future is also confirmed by Hansj௿½rg Lerchenm௿½ller from ISE, the Fraunhofer Institute for Solar Energy Systems. “Theoretically, only a small part of the land surface of Egypt would be enough to meet the world’s energy needs”, says Lerchenm௿½ller.

More than 50% of solar power generated world-wide to date has come out of solar thermal power plants in California. According to a recent study by the German Aerospace Centre (DLR), the share of power generated by solar thermal systems could increase to 10% of the total world electricity by the year 2050. Lerchenm௿½ller is convinced that “with its cost-effective power plant technology, Solarmundo has opened new doors for solar energy.”

Solarmundo sees solar thermal power plants as an investment in the future in the light of depleting energy reserves, environmental risks associated with fossil fuels and the growing demand for electricity. To demonstrate the positive experience gained with the Solarmundo technology on an industrial scale, construction of a 50 MW solar power station is now planned.”We hope to attract experienced industrial groups or energy utilities who see in this new technology an opportunity for their future markets”, says Solarmundo’s Miguel Sureda.

Solar power is one of the fastest evolving renewable energy sources. There are two main sciences behind solar power. The first involves direct conversion of light energy from the sun into electricity using photovoltaic cells. The second, favoured by Solarmundo, involves using highly reflective dishes or tower systems to focus light from the sun onto water or special fluid, thereby heating it to a temperature where it can be used to drive turbines and generate electricity.

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