Bourne-based solar installer, Larkfleet has begun testing a an experimental ‘Solar Steam’ project near its offices in Lincolnshire.

The project, a concentrated solar install, aggregates giant lenses which focus sunlight onto metal piping which heats water to boiling point. The Solar Steam rig is 42 foot long and 18 foot high. Larkfleet has added that a full-size system of the prototype would be “very much larger”.

The project tracks the sun in both azimuth and elevation which is fully automated. “The principle is already proved and we are now looking at enhancing the tracking system to make it fully automatic,” explained Simone Perini, a solar energy expert who joined Larkfleet's R&D team from Cranfield University last year.

Larkfleet believes that its Solar Steam prototype is different to traditional concentrated PV products. “Lenses are less expensive to produce than vast arrays of glass mirrors now being used on comparable power generation systems throughout the world,” explained Perini. Larkfleet will continue to gather data produced by the prototype over the summer testing period before moving onto the next development phase in September.

The trial is designed to help assess the potential UK market for products like the Solar Steam trial. Larkfleet foresees the addition of a turbine to the system to help generate renewable electricity. But there are also other applications that could apply to the technology. “We believe this is the sort of system that could be attractive to SMEs in the small-scale solar market for any process heating system that requires heat of between 80 and 250 degrees,” said Matthew Hicks, the group's renewables investment director.

“It would be extremely valuable in parts of the world where the sun is the only readily available source of energy and could be used to power desalination plants, refrigeration, sterilisation, chemical purification and numerous kinds of waste treatment,” added Hick.

Karl Hick, CEO of the Larkfleet Group, also believes that the system could be integrated into traditional fossil fuel-powered generators. He said: “The solar steam could be fed to the power station generators so gas or coal would only need to be burned at night or on days when solar power is not enough to meet demand.”

Hick concluded that the solar steam rig provides Larkfleet with the opportunity to evaluate a “new method of low carbon energy generation”, but Hick stresses that it remains “very much a long-term project”.  

“The solar steam rig provides an opportunity for looking into a new method of low carbon energy generation and is very much a long-term project – we will trial the technology fully before coming to any conclusions about its future potential.”