Tower Automotive to Supply Stirling SunCatcher Mirror Facets

Stirling Energy Systems (SES) and Tower Automotive have signed a long-term supply agreement for production and assembly of the mirror facet component of the SunCatcher concentrating solar power (CSP) system for North American applications.

The company, historically known as a global supplier for automobile vehicle manufacturers, is diversifying its business by investing engineering expertise, capital and facilities for the production of the SunCatcher mirror facets. Diversification into the solar industry is a strategic opportunity the company said, especially given the continuing downward trend in automobile production.

“At our core, Tower is an integrated engineering/manufacturing/program-management company,” said Mark Malcolm, Tower Automotive president and CEO. “We are excited and proud to have the opportunity to apply these skills to help SES deliver its highly efficient and utility-scale solar technology. With the SunCatcher’s competitive advantages and the increasing global demand for renewable, clean energy, we are confident that the partnership with SES will provide Tower important business diversification and increased long-term organic growth.”

Each SunCatcher dish includes 40 mirror facets, with each facet comprised of three major components -the rib support, metal substrate and mirrors. The mechanical support structure for each mirror facet is similar to an automobile hood, which has a ribbed support under the sheet metal with shaped sheet metal over the top.

The rib support and the metal substrate are stamped to exacting tolerances then attached using a combination of innovative processes. The mirrors are then attached using a new assembly technique developed for this leading-edge solar technology.

When the 40 mirror facets are assembled to form the parabolic-shaped SunCatcher dish, the mirror surface reflects the sun’s energy into the power conversion unit (PCU) at the end of the metal boom. The Stirling engine inside the PCU converts the sun’s intense heat to efficiently drive a 25 kW generator.

The first commercial-scale solar plant utilizing the SunCatcher technology is currently under construction in Peoria, Arizona. The Maricopa Solar plant will be operated by SES sister company, Tessera Solar, and provide 1.5 megawatts of power to the grid with 60 SunCatcher units.

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