By Stelios Orphanides
The Cypriot company Thalis Engineering Co. Ltd. is planning to set up a plant that will produce a renewable energy generator capable of producing power at a faction of the cost of other conventional or renewable technologies after acquiring the necessary patents.
“We are in the middle of certifying our product and commercialising it,” said Pavlos Liassides, one of the two investors, said in an interview on Tuesday. The company already has two projects for the construction of two powerplants in Greece and Cyprus which will employ 23,000 such power generators, each with a production capacity of 7 kW (kilowatt).
Each Thalis SolarDish 751S generator uses solar energy converted into heat to produce electricity with the use of two free piston Stirling engines generators, a thermal storage device, a dish – a solar concentrator spanning around 10 metres – a tracking device and a heat receiver and transfer tube.
The free piston-solar system can now generate power at a cost of less than $0.07 (€0.06) per kilowatt-hour (kWh), a faction of the cost that this technology could produce power six years ago.
In 2012, Liassides told Bloomberg that the cost was almost €0.22 per kWh. Thalis’ new pricing contrasts sharply with the Electricity Authority of Cyprus, which currently has the de-facto monopoly in power generation and supply in Cyprus and generates power with the use of heavy fuel oil or diesel. In 2016 it sold power at an average price of €0.12 per kWh.
The generator’s storage device, which uses molten salt to store heat of up to 650 degrees Celsius, allows power generation at an efficiency rate of 34 per cent, even with 24 hours without any sunshine, Liassides said. He added that “this is addressing two major issues; scalability and dispatchability” as the system can produce power whenever required.
The investor, who also chairs the Nicosia-based Cyprus Free & Competitive Energy Market Business Association (CFCEMBA), added that while photovoltaic power generation is more cost effective than that of the Stirling engine, when one takes into account the cost of energy storage, then the Stirling engine is more competitive.
The Stirling engine, which relies on a technology discovered by the Scottish clergyman Robert Stirling more than 200 hundred years ago, is employed in the US space and defence industry, according to Liassides. NASA’s Curiosity Rover, dispatched to Mars in 2011, utilises a Stirling engine.
This type of device, he continued, is capable of operating practically indefinite after it has demonstrated that it can do so for more than 120,000 hours – almost 14 years – continuously, uninterrupted and maintenance free.
Liassides – and his partner Akis Avramides – are considering three possible locations to set up the production plant, which will initially employ 125 workers and at a later stage almost five times as many. Likely candidates are Egypt, Bulgaria and Cyprus.
“We will be able to commit to incoming orders as early as in the second half of 2018 before we start production as early as next year,” the investor added.
The company, which will operate its research and development (R&D) and engineering department in the US, could export this type of generator to countries in the Middle East worth as much as €600m a year.
The Free Piston-Solar System generator is suitable for Cyprus’s weather conditions where temperatures often exceed 40 degrees Celsius in the summer, Liassides said. Unlike photovoltaics which rely on sunlight but whose performance drops in high temperatures, the Stirling engines rely exactly on solar heat which makes them ideal for the climate conditions of Cyprus and other Middle Eastern countries.
The systems use fluid heated by the receiver to move pistons to create mechanical power, which sets in motion the actual generator, and are suitable for slope terrains and require no water, he added.