One Giant Leap for Solar Power

The Sandia and SES SunCatcher solar dish system. (Photo courtesy of Sandia.)Researchers at Sandia National Laboratories and Stirling Energy Systems (SES) have set a new world record for solar power generating efficiency.

On Jan. 31 of this year, scientists testing a new solar dish system at Sandia’s National Solar Thermal Test Facility in Albuquerque, New Mexico, set an efficiency record of 31.25 percent, compared to the previous high of 29.4 percent set in 1984.

Solar energy efficiency compares the amount of actual electrical power generated to the total amount of solar energy striking the solar dish system.

“Gaining two whole points of conversion efficiency in this type of system is phenomenal,” said Bruce Osborn, president and CEO of SES. “This is a significant advancement that takes our dish engine systems well beyond the capacities of any other solar dish collectors and one step closer to commercializing an affordable system.”

Sandia and SES attribute the latest achievement to a combination of improved optics, more effective radiators and generators, and the good fortune of perfect — in terms of solar power — weather on the test date at Sandia’s National Solar Thermal Test Facility in Albuquerque, New Mexico.

“It was a ‘perfect storm’ of sorts,” said Chuck Andraka, lead Sandia project engineer. “We set the record on Jan. 31, a very cold and extremely bright day, a day eight percent brighter than normal.”

SES says it is now moving forward with plans to commercialize the improved solar power system, which it calls the “SunCatcher.” It has already signed purchase agreements with Southern California Edison and San Diego Gas & Electric for up to 1,750 megawatts of power.

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