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Heliostat sitting on top of the Rhodes skyline brings sunlight to the Plaza below

Heliostat sitting on top of the Rhodes skyline brings sunlight to the Plaza below

Billbergia’s 39-storey tower, Rhodes Central, is home to Sydney’s largest Heliostat. The structure is far more than just an architectural feature, more a piece of the world’s leading technology that confirms Australia’s status as a leader in solar innovation.

Derived from the Greek words for sun (helio) and stationary (state), heliostat is designed to capture the sun’s light energy using a series of custom-made smart mirrors. The mirrors and reflectors shift and tilt autonomously towards the sun and then reflect the sunlight on Union Square Plaza, which was previously covered in shade.

While most heliostats are used to collect energy for solar power plants in remote locations, Billbergia’s Rhodes Central heliostat is one of only two known structures in the world that lies on top of a mixed use. The other is also located in Sydney, at One Central Park.

Alex Lehmann, a researcher at Heliosystems and the designer of heliostat at Rhodes Central, says that metropolitan buildings are not the typical home of a heliostat, but bring a wide range of benefits.

“It is only recently that heliostats have been adapted for this type of architectural use, and we are only just beginning to understand what you can do with active and passive lighting in our cities,” he says.

“Buildings are getting taller, and we have options where we can direct light to improve the convenience of public spaces on the ground. This latest generation of heliostat technology demonstrates an exciting opportunity for developers to think about lighting in public spaces and to be more creative with how they use sunlight to change the urban environment. ”

Rhodes’ central heliostat includes several complex parts. A key element is the large golden crown-like structure that is clearly visible on top of the building. Built to demanding standards, it uses high-quality structural steel that is finished and wrapped in gold-colored, solid aluminum panels.

A network of sun-tracking motorized mirrors follows the movement of the sun during the day, which is hidden from spectators. Sunlight is blasted from the mirrors on the roof up to the second set of reflector mirrors in the golden crown, which then directs the sunlight back down towards Union Square Plaza. Plastic foil covers the reflective surface and filters UV light to ensure that harmful UV rays are not directed towards the space.

Heliostat is the result of a collaboration between HeliostatSA, SJB Architecture, Inhabit Technical Design and Samaras Engineering.

“For us, the challenges were to solve the technical details, such as how to make the optics work. To maximize the energy reflected down to the park, we worked hard to integrate a large heliostat collection area on the roof. However, the reflectors on the crown present a relatively smaller area, so we had to focus the sunlight a little on the reflectors before it deviates again on the way down to the park, ”says Lehmann.

The team also installed a weather station on the roof that monitors conditions. Heliostat responds to conditions where the autonomous reflectors put themselves in a hanger position if it is windy and can be washed when it rains. If in the event of a hailstorm, the reflectors tilt themselves into a position to minimize damage.

Lehmann explains that unlike heliostats surrounded by desert, Rhodes’ central structure had to merge with other elements of the building.

“This heliostat has had to be integrated with other facilities in the building and it has to work well with other features on the roof. All in all, it has been quite an intense process to arrive at the right design, and a lot has been learned along the way. ”

When the sun goes down, heliostat shows its function ‘night glow’, which outlines its structural design.

“At night, the reflectors light up in an interesting color and people will see some interesting light displays,” Lehmann said.

“Heliostat is a feature of the Rhodes skyline now, and as it becomes part of people’s living space; I hope they enjoy what the Rhodes community has to offer. ”

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