Two technologist stand atop the solar tower with the helioststa and control room behind them

HelioCon Highlight: Solar Dynamics, NSTTF to demonstrate off-the-shelf wireless control system

September 6, 2023 9:20 am Published by

Earlier this year the Heliostat Consortium, co-led by Sandia National Laboratories and the National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL), announced seven awards related to a request for proposals (RFP) targeting the U.S. Department of Energy’s goals for heliostat cost reduction, sustained multifaceted innovation, and improved solar field performance. Sandia’s National Solar Thermal Test Facility (NSTTF) received four of the awards and will work with various partners to help lower the cost of heliostats and heliostat technologies and create new market opportunities for the heliostat industry. 

“There will be strong collaboration and communication between our core members and new members that result from the awards of this RFP,” said Margaret Gordon, HelioCon leadership team member and manager of the National Solar Thermal Test Facility at Sandia. “We’re already seeing researchers from NREL and Sandia working with the awardees and connecting them to valuable resources at the labs. The consortium confers that benefit and brings together a community of researchers leveraging each other’s knowledge to attack a large challenging problem from several angles.” 

Sandia will work with Solar Dynamics, LLC, on the Demonstration of a Heliostat Solar Field Wireless Control System project. The NSTTF’s heliostat field will be used to demonstrate the reliable operation of a heliostat solar field wireless control system using commercial, off-the-shelf hardware and aim to prove that the selected wireless technology is fully capable of replacing traditional wired networks with minimal compromises said Ken Armijo, the project’s Sandia point of contact. At the same time, a wireless radio frequency (RF) computer simulation of the demonstration system will be developed. 

After the wireless system is operational, various heliostat solar field-specific performance and reliability tests will be conducted at the NSTTF heliostat field, with test data results used to verify and validate the computer simulation model. The successfully validated RF computer simulation model will then be extended to a reference CSP solar plant with 20,000+ heliostats, Armijo said, and the money saved by using a validated wireless heliostat solar field will attract CSP project developers and stakeholders, who can use the reference simulation as a basis for future projects, he said.  

“The fully functioning wireless heliostat communication network will demonstrate reliable and resilient communications in the demanding solar field RF environment, proving equal capability to wired counterpart, while also addressing and retiring operational, safety, and cybersecurity risks to the solar plant,” Armijo said. “The completed project will then provide the tools and a hardware/software template for future solar field developers to use for implementing a commercial wireless solar field control system.”  

Other HelioCon awards Sandia received include: 

  • HELIOCOMM: A Resilient Wireless Heliostats Communication System by the University of New Mexico 
  • Twisting Heliostats with Closed Loop Tracking by University of Arizona
  • SunRing: Advanced Manufacturing and Field Deployment by Solar Dynamics, LLC 

Watch for more Sandia HelioCon award highlights to come and learn more about Sandia’s NSTTF and Concentrating Solar Power program. 

Read Co-lead NREL’s press release

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