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Improving manufacturing efficiency to meet the commercialisation challenge for green technology

A new green technology ready for commercialisation

Picture a sweeping desert field three kilometres in diameter, studded with 17,500 blinking glass mirrors, arranged in coiled rows around a tall central receiving tower. These high precision, two-axis pointing device mirrors, or heliostats, are designed to track the sun to a fraction of a centimetre, tapping into the world’s best source of free, green power, and reflecting that energy up toward the tower’s receiving device. There, the sun’s energy is stored in a searing hot mixture of circulating molten salt, from which steam can be made and dispatched as needed to power a turbine that generates electricity. The result is a green technology system that boasts an astonishing thermal efficiency of 88%, and will provide abundant green energy to homes and businesses, available not just when the sun is shining, but also at night and on cloudy days.

The commercialisation challenge: manufacturing cost-competitively on a large scale

Exclusive rights to this exciting new Solar Power Tower technology – proven viable by Solar Two, a prototype built in California’s Mojave Desert in 1995 – belong to SolarReserve, a young, innovative company at the cutting edge of the Concentrated Solar Power (CSP) market. Born from Pratt & Whitney Rocketdyne (PWR), an aerospace provider that makes rocket engines for NASA, 2008-founded SolarReserve knew early on that it had hit on a solution to one of the solar industry’s greatest challenges: how to store the sun’s energy to make 24/7 solar power possible. But the company lacked the critical expertise it would need in order to put its green technology on the ground. It needed help with manufacturing cost-competitively, on a large scale.

Streamlining the path to commercialisation

To fill that gap in manufacturing expertise, SolarReserve went out for a competitive proposal from several consulting groups. Tim Connor, VP for Engineering, says PA Consulting Group (PA) “knocked it out of the park.” SolarReserve immediately asked PA to use its product design and development expertise to expedite and streamline their technology’s path to commercialisation, bring together the necessary players, and unlock their technology’s potential for the world to use.

“Rocketdyne doesn’t have experience with high rate manufacturing,” said Connor. “PA went through and did the tolerance stack-up to ensure that the heliostats were manufacturable, and did an outstanding job helping us identify and develop our supply base globally. The work that PA did for us really enabled us to be competitive in the market place.”

Reducing manufacturing costs by 20%

Drawing on its world-class capabilities in technology and product development, PA focused on cutting back on the number of parts used in heliostat technology, re-orienting Rocketdyne’s focus towards efficiency and mass production, aligning the heliostat manufacturing process with industry standards and capabilities, and building supply chains for materials such as glass, steel, adhesives, and controls. This succeeded in reducing SolarReserve’s manufacturing costs by 20% per heliostat field. PA also set SolarReserve up with practical skill sets and directives that will enable it to find an additional 20% cost reduction, independently.

Green technology generating competitively priced power

Those skill sets will become increasingly valuable to SolarReserve as it competes in the fast-developing CSR (concentrated solar power) market - it is estimated that by 2050 some 1,000GW of CSP capacity will be installed in the US and internationally. SolarReserve’s Power Tower technology is considered to be the most cost-competitive in the concentrated solar power market. It is a promising answer to the burning question of how to scale and store solar energy, harnessing the sun’s power for green, competitively-priced power.

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