Friday, February 3, 2012

Local Company Aiding Solar Test

Workers on Saturday erected an experimental solar dish that a Duryea company is hoping will change the economics of green energy.

The prototype solar concentrator dish was mounted on the roof of environmental consulting firm The Stone House Group’s building in downtown Bethlehem, Lehigh County. The collection dish itself, which measures about 21 feet in diameter, was constructed by CEWA Technologies Inc., of Bethlehem, while its 12-foot support structure and mast was designed and built by Keystone Automation of Duryea.

The dish was not designed to be the most efficient solar collector on the market. In fact, Keystone Automation executives said it will likely be less efficient than most solar panels being manufactured today. But because the dish is made of polished aluminum, rather than glass, it would be much cheaper to produce than conventional solar panels.

That could make the dish the first source of solar energy to be cost-competitive with fossil fuels without government subsidies.

CEWA Technologies President and CEO J. Paul Eisenhuth said that when installation and maintenance costs are spread over a 30-year life, the dish could produce electricity for about $2 per watt, or about the same cost as fossil fuels. Photovoltaic cell solar generators typically cost $6 to $8 per watt, Eisenhuth said, adding that repairing the new dish can be as simple as gluing a new sheet of polished aluminum on top.

“One of the big criticisms of solar is that it’s not cost-effective versus others forms of energy generation,” Eisenhuth said. “We’ve always viewed our competition as not only the solar generators but other generators of energy.”

The prototype dish will be used to heat water, not generate electricity, for the building, and will measure how well it reflects the suns rays. If it functions properly, it could be combined with technology designed by Dynalene Inc., of Whitehall Township, Lehigh County, which produces power by using reflected light to heat liquefied salt. Water run over the salt then produces steam to spin a turbine and produce electricity.

As a manufacturer of key components for the device, Keystone Automation has high hopes going into the experiment. Principals for the Duryea-based automated equipment manufacturer, which employs about 25, said the dish could lead to expansion of its facilities and workforce if the dish goes into production.

Keystone CEO Mike Duffy said numerous Fortune 100 companies are paying close attention to the experiment, and a major American corporation is considering building a power plant in the southwestern desert with 425 of the dishes if the device works well.

“Four-hundred twenty-five of these would put us on the map, and hire a lot of people and expand the building,” Duffy said.


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