From pv magazine Germany
The EU-funded HiFlex project – the abbreviation stands for High Storage Density Solar Power Plant for Flexible Energy Systems – is led by a group of international research entities.
They include the German Aerospace Center (DLR), which is building a pilot system to supply pasta producer Barilla with electricity and heat from renewable resources around the clock in southern Italy. DLR and its partners are building the plant near a Barilla pasta factory in Foggia, in Italy's Apulia region.
“The system serves to demonstrate the technical feasibility and at the same time to prove the economic viability of this technology,” said Gabriele Bertoni, project manager for Italian engineering specialist Kinetics Technology.
The starting point of the pilot plant is a solar tower with around 500 movable mirrors. The mirrors concentrate the sun's rays on a special radiation receiver at the top of the tower. This receiver uses the bundled solar energy to heat ceramic particles 1 millimeter in size to temperatures of up to 1,000 C, said DLR.
The hot particles can be stored in large, thermally insulated containers. If necessary, the heat from the hot particles can be used to generate steam for an electricity generator or hot gas for industrial process heat. This ensures energy supplies, even at night.
The HiFlex system combines several advantages, said Miriam Ebert, a DLR spokesperson.
“The system can be used very flexibly to supply industrial processes completely on a sustainable basis with electricity and heat at different temperature levels,” Ebert explained.
But it is also possible to stabilize the power grid and compensate for fluctuations by storing energy that is not required in the form of hot particles.
“Storing heat is significantly more cost-effective than storing electricity using batteries, for example,” Ebert said.
In addition, such flexibility options are “extremely important” for the future energy supply in order to compensate for the fluctuations in electricity and heat from renewable resources, she claimed.
The DLR solar tower differs from the previously known commercial solar thermal power plants, which use molten salt as a heat transfer medium.
“Instead, we use ceramic particles. They can withstand higher temperatures, are inexpensive and pose no threat to the environment,” said Ebert.
The special receiver has already successfully completed initial tests at DLR's solar tower in Jülich, Germany. Next year, it will be delivered to Foggia so the power plant can go into operation.
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