Hawaii solar farm is first of its kind in the world

Published: Apr. 23, 2009 at 5:33 PM HST|Updated: Apr. 23, 2009 at 5:47 PM HST
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Darren Kimura
Darren Kimura

KEAHOLE POINT, Hawaii (KHNL) There's a most unusual farm on the leeward side of the Big Island. It doesn't grow anything, but it's taking a lot of heat.

It looks like something from a science-fiction movie, but hundreds of curved mirrors are specially designed solar panels.

"This is the first concentrating solar project like this in the world," according to Darren Kimura, the CEO of Sopogy.

Packed into an acre of barren lava rock in the Natural Energy Lab, these solar collectors are smaller than more traditional energy producing ones.

They track the sun, moving throughout the day. Making the most of our island weather to make energy. The key to their success is their shape.

"Concentrating solar panels use mirrors and optics to focus and intensify the energy of the sun to create heat," said Kimura.

The panels magnify the sun's intensity 60 times, and heat oil sent through the hot pipes at the center of mirrors. That oil then runs an engine, creating enough electrical power for 200 homes.

The solar farm also deals with the biggest downside to renewable energy. What to do when the sun goes behind a cloud and the panels are no longer producing heat. It has gotten around that problem, by adding tanks.

The big tanks act like a thermos, keeping the hot water or oil, hot, allowing the engine to stay powered even behind a cloud or into the night.

The solar panels have also been designed to deal with the island winds and rain, by turning over to protect the mirrors, making them last even longer. Currently, the Sopogy system costs about the same as traditional electric power plants. But when it comes to solar, the skies the limit on saving fuel in the future.

"We have no fuel costs, we use the sun," added Kimura.

The Sopogy solar farm is found on the Big Island, but there are hopes additional ones will one day fuel facilities like island hospitals, college campuses or hotels.