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Super-concentrated sunlight delivers significant energy savings thanks to innovation from Houten, the Netherlands.
By: Teun Schröder

Anyone who searches for images of concentrated solar plants (CSP) will soon arrive at pictures of vast sandy plains where hundreds of solar mirrors circle a central tower. But thanks to a unique design and a lot of geometric puzzling, a CSP can also work very well in the less sunny Netherlands, shows Suncom Energy from Houten.
The seed was planted by Henk Arntz, founder of Suncom, during a business trip for his former employer McKinsey. Arntz walked from a heavily air-conditioned airport, to a sun-drenched Houston (temperature 35 degrees), back into the cold of the hotel. “While I was sneezing in the lobby, I looked outside at the glass blocks where the sun was baking,” says Arntz. “Then I thought: what if we could put all that heat to good use.”

550 degrees
It was the moment when his mechanical engineering studies at TU Eindhoven were resumed. Arntz soon arrived at a construction of mirrors that heated a liquid in a pipe with concentrated sunlight. “Similar to how you use sunlight and a magnifying glass to make a fire. After I had calculated everything geometrically, I started working on a scale model in the attic. Then I managed to create a system with which I reached a temperature of 550 degrees.”
What is a CSP?
A concentrated solar plant (CSP) is a collection of many mirrors arranged in circles around a central point. The mirrors reflect light to a central tower where it is converted into heat. The heat is then used, for example, to turn a steam turbine that produces electricity.

Liquid
Suncom's CSP does not consist of mirrors aimed at a central tower. Instead, the focus of sunlight is directed onto a square pipe mounted just in front of the mirrors. A liquid flows through this pipe and is heated. The warm liquid then flows to a central thermal storage. Smart software ensures that the mirrors follow the path of the sun very precisely throughout the day.

Provide heat
Initially, Arntz wanted to supply electricity with his system. “But then the war in Ukraine started. The price of gas went through the roof. So it became interesting to supply heat rather than electricity. You can store heat for a very long time and cheaply and then supply it. This is how the first CSP installation in the Netherlands came about.”
Up to 425 degrees
Suncom's offering now consists of two different products. The first is Sunfleet H100. This system has solar mirrors (SunArcs) that are connected to a water-based thermal energy storage. This allows a temperature of up to 100 degrees to be reached. Suncom also has the Sunfleet H425. This system has an energy storage that works with a type of oil instead of water. This allows the temperature in the thermal storage to rise to 425 degrees. This makes this variant suitable for industrial processes that require higher temperatures.
Depending on the sun
But regardless of which system you choose, they both depend on an essential component: the sun. “If it is cloudy, the thermal storage obviously does not heat up,” says Arntz. But that doesn't mean the system doesn't work. There are various radars that you can turn. “We want to know from a customer what his daily energy consumption is and at what times of the day or week his peak load is. We can then calculate how many SunArcs and storage capacity such a party needs.” The storage systems cool down approximately one degree per day. So once warmed by the sun, you can draw heat from it for a long time. “Ultimately, the configuration of systems is different for every customer. We see our solution as an addition to the current energy system, not as a replacement.”

Land available
According to Arntz, a very large part of the industry can already be captured with the current temperature range of both systems. “We see a lot of potential in the food industry and paper production. But also in agriculture, for example. These are all major consumers of heat. The big advantage of farms is that they have land available for our installation.

CSP in Brabant
Suncom is currently completing the installation of a full-fledged Sunfleet H100 system at its first customer in the Netherlands. Fifty solar arcs, a buffer tank in combination with a heat pump will replace a pellet boiler on a farm in Brabant. Suncom expects to generate approximately 460,000 kilowatt hours annually with the system. For comparison, an average family uses about 2,500 kilowatt hours.
“We are also working on a project in Spain with a food manufacturer,” says Arntz. “We see a lot of potential in countries where there is a lot of sun, space and industry. If our installation is connected to the factory in Spain, we can meet roughly three quarters of the heat demand. Then we can really take significant bites out of the heat demand that is normally generated with fossil energy.”



  • Boniface Kuria

    7 w

    This is why I love this app. I am always learning something new. This is a great innovation.

    4
    Welcome, let's solve the climate crisis together
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