First, there were hybrid cars, now 'green' hybrid power plants are on the way, say university researchers.
Many power plants use traditional fuel to make energy, says Tel Aviv University professor Avi Kribus, from the School of Mechanical Engineering. Others that are more environmentally friendly run on solar thermal power, but they can be costly to construct and operate. The turbines are powered by high pressure and temperatures produced by sunlight, but the cost of the equipment that harnesses the energy is expensive, as it made from valuable metals.
As a hybrid alternative, Professor Kribus has devised a new steam-injection gas turbine method that employs both fuel and steam from solar power, so plants can use green energy for up to half of their power needs.
Prof Kribus, who has worked with graduate student Maya Livshits on the project, says, "We combine a gas turbine, which works on hot air and not steam, and inject the solar-produced steam into the process.
"We still need to burn fuel to heat the air, but we add steam from low-temperature solar energy, approximately 200 degrees centigrade."
The hybrid method is an efficient way of producing energy and because it operates and lower pressures and temperatures, the solar equipment can be made out of cheaper materials.
Prof Kribus' work is set to be published in a forthcoming issue of Solar Energy Journal. He acknowledges that the hybrid system might not be totally environmentally friendly, but it is more affordable and practical than traditional methods.
Energy from plants powered by solar energy costs double that of plants using traditional fuel at present, which stops it being widely used.
Professor Kribus hopes that the costs of operating a hybrid plant could be similar to a traditional power plant and kinder to the environment.
The researchers have approached an Indian university to further develop the project and are interested in contacting corporate partners.