Print your own 3D solar field

Concentrating Solar Thermal revolution comes to a 3D printer near you

Newcastle, Australia, 21st October 2015 – ASTRI, The Australian Solar Thermal Research Initiative, today provided a glimpse into Australia’s solar future with the release of a 3D printable model of its 25 MW* concentrating solar thermal (CST) reference power plant.

The desktop model, a first of its kind, is an education tool that allows Australians to get ‘hands on’ with the benefits, value and opportunity that grid and fringe-of-grid concentrating solar thermal technology presents for Australia.

Dr Manuel Blanco, Director of ASTRI said of the model release, “As the debate heats up around the best path forward for Australia’s renewable energy future, it’s the storage component of CST technology that will revolutionise the way we deploy solar power.

“This model brings that component to life, showing how the storage tanks are positioned in conjunction with the solar tower and heliostat array to capture and dispatch energy, even when the sun isn’t shining.”

A downloadable ‘STL file’, ASTRI has developed and released the model as an education tool to aid discussion with:

  • Industry (e.g. utilities, electricity grid operators, suppliers);
  • Government;
  • Potential investors;
  • Schools, education and research institutions; and
  • Potential customers (e.g. mining and fringe-of-grid communities just to name a few) about the important role CST technology will play in Australia’s renewable energy future.


A 19 x 19 centimetre model, the printable plant:  

  • Details the layout and positioning of more than 140 of the 6,377 heliostats that make up a complete solar field, along with the receiver tower and two molten salt storage tanks;
  • Illustrates, when combined with a detailed field map of the full ASTRI heliostat array, a CST plant that could generate up to 90 GWh of electrical energy per year** with four hours of storage – enough to power more than 12,000 homes each year according to figures from the Australian Energy Regulator***; and
  • Represents the ‘common platform’ (ASTRI reference plant) into which CST technology developers, suppliers and customers can ‘plug’ new and different technologies to test their impact on reducing the levelised cost of electricity from CST plants.


The ASTRI reference power plant is based on a set of standard metrics, such as weather data, subsystem efficiencies, and cost. This allows testing and development of novel subsystems to assess the best configuration for CST power plants to achieve greatest efficiency, output and to estimate return on investment.

To provide a snapshot in an Australian context, the reference plant design used more than twelve years of solar data compiled by ASTRI, from Bureau of Meteorology data, at the Alice Springs world meteorology site – one of Australia’s sunniest and best locations.

Can I print my own 3D CST power plant?

You sure can. It’s as easy as one, two, and three.

Step 1) Download the 3D printable STL file

Step 2) Follow the instructions to save the file then share it with your preferred 3D print supplier

Step 3) Print and then marvel at the beauty and simplicity of Australia’s solar future in the palm of your hand

You can also download and print an A0 poster of the ASTRI solar field map and position your 3D model on it (just like our pic above). This will give a sense of the full size of the solar field at scale.

Watch our short video of the model’s development from design to 3D print production here

[youtube height=”337″ width=”600″][/youtube]

Five fast facts about solar:

  • According to the International Energy Agency, by 2050, solar energy could become the largest source of electricity worldwide and CST power plants could satisfy 11% of the global electricity needs.
  • A global shift to electricity production from solar energy would avoid the emission of up to 2.1 gigatonnes of carbon dioxide (CO2) each year
  • According to figures from the US Department of Energy (DOE), in a single hour, the amount of energy from the sun that strikes the Earth is more than the entire world consumes in a year****
  • Australia captures the highest volume of solar irradiance (ideal for the production of solar thermal energy), of any country in the world. Our space, geography and exposure to direct sunlight make it the ideal location for commercial-scale solar thermal energy generation.
  • In 2014, clean energy generated US$310 billion in investment around the world.



Media Enquiries

Kate Hines, Communications Advisor, ASTRI

+61 2 4960 6100 or

* The ASTRI plant design is 25 MW (electrical) with 4 hours storage to produce 90 GWh/year

** Based on figures from ASTRI’s reference site in Alice Springs

*** Figures from the Australian Energy Regulator indicate that the average Australian household consumes approximately 7.4 MWh (electrical) per annum

**** Each hour 430 quintillion Joules of energy from the sun hits the Earth. In comparison, the total amount of energy that all humans use in a year is 410 quintillion Joules


  • ASTRI is an eight year international collaboration with leading research institutions, industry bodies and universities that will position Australia in concentrating solar thermal (CST) power technologies. The Australian Renewable Energy Agency (ARENA) is providing up to $35 million to support the $87.3 million initiative
    • Full commercialisation of CST technology will build industry, create jobs and transition Australia to a low-carbon, renewable economy on a global stage
  • ASTRI’s focus is on reducing the costs to build CST power plants, increase the efficiency of their operation and their outputs and build the skills and capability necessary to make solar power the cheapest, cleanest energy source it can be.
    • We are doing this through the combined resource and expertise of our Australian and international University and research partners – some of the best known and most highly regarded institutions in the world
  • Australia is precisely the location that this research and development should be taking place.
    • Our space, geography and exposure to direct sunlight make Australia the ideal location for commercial-scale solar thermal energy generation.
  • CST technologies present a clear economic and social opportunity for Australia
    • To ensure Australia is positioned to capitalise on this opportunity, it is important that there is significant support for both research and the development of CST industries locally.  ASTRI is a big part of this research and capacity building effort.
  • In ASTRI, we want to deliver the next wave of energy technology at a scale that makes CST competitive, not only with current renewable energy sources, but also traditional fossil fuel power stations.
    • The technology and capability that we are producing within ASTRI will position Australia on the global stage in this sector while creating jobs, local industry and skills for our future.


About CST

  • Concentrating solar thermal technology is harnessing the sun’s energy in the form of thermal energy. There are three key benefits of concentrating solar thermal technology over other renewable and non-renewable energy sources:
    • A concentrating solar thermal (CST) power station uses established technology that is readily available (mirrors, tubes, steam and gas turbines and electrical generators)
    • CST technology can provide dispatachable power (stored power that can be produced even when the sun is not shining) which greatly assists in providing a stable grid; and
    • As well as solar electricity production, CST technology can also be used to produce liquid fuels suitable for automobiles and aircrafts.