Experiments start on “ground-breaking” solar power system in Bourne

Simone Perini, a solar energy expert with Larkfleet

Simone Perini, a solar energy expert with Larkfleet

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Tests are starting on an innovative solar power system in Bourne to prove it can generate carbon-free electricity.

Called the ‘Solar Steam’ project, it has been built alongside the offices of sustainable building company Larkfleet Group, in Falcon Way.

Larkfleet's futuristic-looking Solar Steam project

Larkfleet's futuristic-looking Solar Steam project

If successful, the system could be used to help reduce the burning of fossil fuels across the world.

The experimental solar steam rig measures just over 13 metres long by 5.5 metres high when extended to its maximum.

The futuristic-looking construction is essentially a collection of giant lenses designed to concentrate the energy of sunlight onto metal piping and heat water to boiling point.

The metal framework holds a series of plastic lenses which concentrate refracted sunlight onto a nine metre long metal pipe to heat water circulated inside. Full-size systems will be very much larger.

To maintain maximum power generation the lenses need to constantly track the sun and this needs to be fully automated.

Simone Perini, a solar energy expert who joined Larkfleet’s research and development team from Cranfield University last year, said: “The principle is already proved and we are now looking at enhancing the tracking system to make it fully automatic.

“Lenses are less expensive to produce than vast arrays of glass mirrors now being used on comparable power generation systems throughout the world.

“It is challenging but a lot of work has been done already and it is an innovative project with great potential.

“For the same reason is very exciting.”

Data will be gathered during a summer of testing before an evaluation phase leading to the next stage of development starts in September.

As well as developing the system itself, Larkfleet is also assessing the potential market for such solar steam renewable technology.

One possibility is using solar powered steam to generate electricity by driving a turbine - but it has many other potential uses so there are big incentives to make it as efficient as possible.

Matthew Hicks, the group’s renewables investment director, said: “We believe this is the sort of system that could be attractive to small and medium sized enterprises in the small scale solar market for any process heating system that requires heat of between 80 and 250 degrees.

“It would be extremely valuable in parts of the world where the sun is the only readily available source of energy and could be used to power desalination plants, refrigeration, sterilisation, chemical purification and numerous kinds of waste treatment.”

Karl Hick, chief executive of the Larkfleet Group, says the system - already attracting interest from around the globe - could eventually be integrated into traditional power stations to reduce the burning of fossil fuels.

“The solar steam could be fed to the power station generators so gas or coal would only need to be burned at night or on days when solar power is not enough to meet demand.

“The solar steam rig provides an opportunity for looking into a new method of low carbon energy generation and is very much a long-term project - we will trial the technology fully before coming to any conclusions about its future potential.”