New Mexico Company Teams with Chinese on Solar Microgrids with Thermal Storage

Jan. 6, 2015
New Mexico company Focused Sun is partnering with Xiang Yang Institute in Hubei, China to develop solar microgrids with thermal storage to help relieve China’s smog problem.

New Mexico company Focused Sun is partnering with  Xiang Yang Institute (XYI) in Hubei, China to develop solar microgrids with thermal storage to help relieve China’s smog problems.

“Focused Sun has squeezed the cost out of solar concentrators, the key part of the microgrid system that focuses sunlight. Together with thermal storage and Chinese turbogenerators, we can produce small power plants for microgrids,” said XYI Dean Jihong Chen, in a news release.

The system uses mineral oil heated by the sun to 300C to operate a turbogenerator. Thermal storage holds the heat for a day or more, so that it can generate electricity day or night.

“The solar energy peak is at mid-day, but people need heat and electricity in the evening,” says MIT David Gordon Wilson, an expert on thermal storage and turbomachinery and a professor at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

Wilson says thermal storage can power generators until the next day.

“For microgrids in the 100 kW to 10 MW range, low cost solar concentrators and thermal storage combined with turbogenerators make more sense than photovoltaic collectors and battery storage. Thermal storage is the key missing ingredient,” he said.

Focused Sun says that four times more solar energy is captured by the concentrators than by conventional PV panels of the same size. During the day, solar energy is stored thermally. At night or during cloudy periods, the energy is pumped from storage to the turbogenerator where 20 percent of the energy is converted to electricity, according to the news release.

Another 50 percent of the sun’s energy is available as heat to warm homes, hotel rooms and greenhouses or other structures. The system produces both electricity and hot water and can pay for itself in as little as two years, according to the company.

The solar microgrid system is built in a modular fashion so that it can be customized to various power plant sizes.

Follow us on Twitter @MicrogridNews for the latest in  solar microgrids.

About the Author

Elisa Wood | Editor-in-Chief

Elisa Wood is an award-winning writer and editor who specializes in the energy industry. She is chief editor and co-founder of Microgrid Knowledge and serves as co-host of the publication’s popular conference series. She also co-founded RealEnergyWriters.com, where she continues to lead a team of energy writers who produce content for energy companies and advocacy organizations.

She has been writing about energy for more than two decades and is published widely. Her work can be found in prominent energy business journals as well as mainstream publications. She has been quoted by NPR, the Wall Street Journal and other notable media outlets.

“For an especially readable voice in the industry, the most consistent interpreter across these years has been the energy journalist Elisa Wood, whose Microgrid Knowledge (and conference) has aggregated more stories better than any other feed of its time,” wrote Malcolm McCullough, in the book, Downtime on the Microgrid, published by MIT Press in 2020.

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