Military Tech and a 19th Century Engine Could Revolutionize Solar Energy

A new way solar energy will be harnessed could change how people worldwide get their electricity.

“In the remote Northern Cape province, huge mirrors reflect the sun across the brown Kalahari sand. This is the test site for Swedish company Ripasso, which is using the intense South African sun and local manufacturing know-how to develop their cutting-edge kit,” explains Jeffrey Barbee for The Guardian.

Work on the project began in 2011. The South African team is led by Jean-Pierre Fourie who has overseen the project in the extreme desert temperatures for four years.

The system works by taking sunlight that is directly hitting the satellite-dish-like apparatus and converting it into electricity. The 100-square-mile apparatus has solar panels that do the work. While most other solar energy generators with photovoltaic panels only get 23 percent to 25 percent of the sunlight, this machine gets 35 percent.

All of the sunlight is focused into one hot point that then turns the energy into electricity to power a 19th century engine created by Swedish inventor the Rev. Robert Stirling. The engine was created for steam-powered boats. Ripasso has been using updated models of the engine for submarines.

“The technology looks good to me. I’ve seen it working, and I believe it meets the efficiency goals. The technology is proven with years of performance in the navy,”  according to Paul Gauche, director of the Solar Thermal Energy Research Group at the University of Stellenbosch.

The problem with new tech is that it is very difficult to get funding from financial institutions. Ripasso will have to learn to adapt in order to continue this project.