Gallery C

Power In The Sky
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Around-The-Clock Solar Power

By James Donahue

There is no longer any excuse for us to be using carbon fuels to heat our homes, run our factories and generate electricity. A Spanish based company has found a way to capture the energy of the sun and store enough away to keep the lights on around the clock all year long.

A Gemasolar plant designed by Torresol Energy at Seville, Spain, has been found capable of storing enough solar heat to operate at full capacity for 18 hours and operate for 24 hours a day for most months of the year.

The plant, small by power station standards, uses 2,650 mirrors all training the Sun’s rays toward a central tower filled with molten salt. The solar rays heat the salt to double the boiling point of water. So much heat is produced that a large surplus can be stored in molten salt tanks for use during cloudy periods and during night hours.

Despite its size, the little plant produces enough juice to power 25,000 homes. The energy it produces alone is estimated to reduce carbon dioxide emissions by 30,000 tons a year.

Several other solar power systems have been designed and built throughout the world, but the Seville facility has gained the attention of DESERTEC, an organization of researchers working to find better ways to store solar power for non-stop production of electricity. The Gemasolar plant has been listed as “a pioneer for future power stations.”

Spain is considered a world leader in the quest to utilize solar power with molten salt storage. Several companies have been building large solar plants in the deserts, where the sun always shines, and transferring electricity via super-conducting cables to nearby cities, sometimes hundreds of miles away.

But there has always been that constant problem of storing excess energy to keep the lights on when the sun does not shine.

Alternative sources of green energy have been a priority among European researchers as concern over carbon emissions and their effect on the weather builds. In addition to solar energy, research is being conducted on wind and biogas systems.

Germany has been exploring a large solar generating facility in the Sahara desert to provide clean power to an area where the weather is very changeable.
Solar power has been gaining the most attention now that the reduced cost of solar panels and the quality of the panels in size and appearance has made them far cheaper and safer than nuclear power and competitive with coal.

Yet another bonus from solar power: nuclear and coal powered plants demand a heavy use of water for cooling towers, at a time when quality potable water also is in short supply.