Greek Firm Claims Cut in Power Costs in Solar Thermal Plant

A Greek firm has obtained support for what it claims is a breakthrough solar electrochemical thermal converter to generate electricity at 60 percent less cost than conventional power plants.

ATHENS, Greece (GR) 2002-01-30 [] “Our solar plants, with short-term thermal storage and long-term hydrogen-based energy storage, have overcome the traditional handicaps of higher cost in relation to fossil fuel-based technologies and the fluctuating nature of the output when the sun is only intermittently available,” explains Costas Liapis, CEO of Lion Energy. “We can ensure continuous 24-hour output.” The company could build power stations in seven years with total capacity of 700 MW, according to Liapis. Lion Energy’s technology uses applications initially developed in the former Soviet bloc, and can produce power at 60 percent below conventional facilities. Liapis admits to initial incredulity, but says the Technical University of Crete and the Center for Renewable Energy Sources (KAPE) will soon complete a feasibility study on a 10 MW station he plans to build near the village of Armeni in Crete. He will then seek a licence from the Greek Energy Regulatory Authority (RAE). The plant could meet the energy needs of 12,000 homes and be ready in ten months at a cost of US$25 million, says Liapis, which could drop to less than $15 million for subsequent sites. He says a windfarm of similar capacity would require 80 turbines on a 3.5 km mountain range, and have environmental problems. The technology is flexible and capacity can range from 5 kW for a residential installation to a 50 MW power station. The low operating temperature (40-90oC) required by Lion’s converter makes it suitable for tapping geothermal energy. “Our main competitive advantage lies in our innovative and cheaper technology,” says Liapis. “In contrast to the panels of other solar plants, where they represent the main fixed capital item, ours account for only 10 percent of total cost due to the high percentage of recyclable polymer components. These have high long-term resistance to light and thermal degradation and are also easy to ship and replace.” The system uses an electrochemical thermal converter which turns heat into electricity with the continuous regeneration of electrolytes. The cost of Lion’s electrochemical generator is 30 percent of the cost of a gas turbine for the same power output, says Liapis. A heat accumulator stores enough thermal energy during ten hours of sun, that the system can operate for the rest of the day. At an operating temperature of 95oC, the conversion efficiency of thermal energy into electricity is 80 to 85 percent, he claims. Part of the generation produces hydrogen for long-term storage or transportation of energy, using a support substance. Lion Energy says the system, including support substance tank, is configured to ensure operation in the absence of sunlight for some time, and needs only five people to operate. The electricity generated at the Crete site would be fed to the Public Power grid, which will buy it at the rate set for private producers by RAE. Part of the revenue will go to the municipality of Armeni. Financing is crucial and Liapis hopes that a demonstration he will hold when the plant reaches capacity of 2 MW will convince investors to participate in the scheme. He also hopes to obtain a subsidy of 30 to 40 percent from the European Union’s Third Community Support Framework investment plan.
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