March 17, 2008

Spain Steps Up To Solar

Spain, my home away from home, has already begun the lead into a solar powered world with two construction companies working in multiple locations around the world to set up solar power stations. Now the Spanish construction giant Sener and Abu Dhabi's Masdar are teaming up in a joint venture called Torresol Energy. The initial investment of €800 million ($1.24B) will be used to construct three solar plants in Spain.

One of the plants will use an array of heliostats surrounding a central receiver (pictured above), which the company says will be its first commercial deployment. Other companies such as BrightSource, SolarReserve, and eSolar are planning to use this same design in future deployments.

This type of technology has been developed at the Sandia National Laboratory since the 1970's and was successfully demonstrated by Solar Two, an installation using molten salt in the central receiver. The surrounding array of heliostats, or sun-tracking mirrors, reflect and concentrate sunlight onto a central receiver, generating a great amount of heat. The design is more efficient because all of the heat exchanging and steam generation take place inside the central tower, but the heliostats are also delicate and expensive.

The other two Spanish plants in the works will use parabolic trough technology, Torresol tells us. Startups like Solel are also using the trough approach, which heats liquid-filled tubes. The hot liquid must be pumped to a steam generator at an energy cost, but the troughs are supposed to be more robust than heliostats. They're hoping to generate at least 380 megawatts of power in the next five years, with a one-gigawatt goal for 10 years out.

Torresol also has some even loftier hopes for its solar thermal technology. The company plans to “facilitate” 500 megawatts of concentrating solar power plants around the world by 2012, in places like the American Southwest, the Middle East, North Africa and Northern Australia.

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