26 September 2019

Renewable energy

Bertin Energy & Environment looking for green energy supply solutions for the giant SKA radio telescope

Bertin Energie Environnement, a Business Unit of Bertin Technologies, a CNIM Group subsidiary, is supported by the French private sector research and assistance fund (FASEP) to study possible energy supply solutions for the South African part of this large radio telescope. The company will thus offer SKAO (SKA Organization) and SARAO (South African Radio Astronomy Observatory) scenarios for an economical, reliable and environmentally friendly energy supply.

SKA.jpgIllustration of the central hub of the future South African parabolic network. Source: SKA

SKA (Square Kilometer Array) will soon be the largest radio telescope in the world, ultimately covering a total collector area of one square kilometer in the Karoo Desert in South Africa (SKA1-MID) and Murchison County in Australia (SKA1-LOW). Designed by an international scientific consortium, it aims to study fundamental questions such as the initial phases of formation of all objects in the Universe or the Cradle of Life.

With the 64 antennas already in existence through the MeerKAT South African radio telescope, of which 133 additional SKA1-MID dishes will be integrated by 2028, the site's overall energy demand is estimated at 5 MW approximately. Today, MeerKAT is connected to the local electricity grid, which is not adapted to support the required power, mainly supplied by fossil fuels. The objective of this comparative study is therefore to define a selection of technologies that are best suited for the South African context, safe, environmentally friendly and with a long-term perspective.

Bertin is studying the various resources available in the area into consideration: photovoltaic and thermodynamic solar energy, wind energy, hydropower, hydrogen and biomass. The experts also study the impact of production and storage technologies on the environment by integrating product life cycle analysis. They identified and sized several solutions to better meet the needs of the SKA project. These solutions highlight technological innovations, some of which are French, that make it possible to consider an economically and technically credible alternative to fossil resources.

Bertin is studying in particular the integration of solar energy with trackers to reduce grid energy demand in a centralized configuration, that is, with a distribution network providing all the buildings and antennas. The interest of daily storage for balancing photovoltaic production will be studied.

Bertin is also interested in the possibility of independently feeding the antennas furthest from the center, in order to avoid the costs and losses associated with the distribution network. It will then be necessary to size many mini photovoltaic networks with short (battery) and long-term storage (Redox Flow battery, hydrogen, mini-STEP...) for balancing and solar intermittency smoothing.

This initiative was made possible by the CNRS and the House of SKA France, which represent France's interests and contributions to the designers of the SKA project. In addition, energy companies, industries and technology SMEs have expressed an interest in taking part of the project, including Air Liquide, Atos, CVE (Cap Vert Energy), EDF INGEUM, Ergosup, Helioslite, Hysilabs, Kemiwatt, SAFT, Stepsol and Total Eren. The resulting monitoring club thus initiates a reflection on the most appropriate financing method for the project, between private or public investments, installation of demonstrators, etc. Travel is planned in the country and on site, in order to adapt the solution to the specific challenges of the project.

This study thus makes it possible to set up a replicable analysis methodology and to form a group of French companies, able to propose an industrial offer for the energy supply of isolated and export-sensitive sites.


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