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Published on May 22nd, 2011 | by Nicholas Brown


First Large Scale 24/7 Solar Power Plant to be Constructed in U.S

May 22nd, 2011 by  

Sandia National Laboratory – Solar Power Tower. Public domain photo via: Wiki Commons (US Federal Government).

The Obama administration provided a loan guarantee of $737 million to SolarReserve on Thursday to construct the first large-scale solar power plant that stores energy and provides electricity 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. The solar power project will be constructed in Nevada. (Note that BrightSource Energy is at a similar stage in the development of a larger solar thermal power plant in the Mojave Desert, receiving a DOE loan guarantee of $1.37 billion in February 2010 and $168 million from Google this April.)

The SolarReserve power plant utilizes what is called thermal energy storage to store heat collected from the sun, which is then utilized by the power plant to boil water and produce steam. The steam then turns a steam turbine which generates electricity. This is a how a solar thermal power plant generally works, but keep in mind that there are different types of solar thermal power plants, some of which are not steam.

This type collects heat and stores it in molten salt which is then circulated to the boiler. The boiler… boils water into steam which then rushes through a steam turbine.

17,500 heliostats* focus or concentrate sunlight onto the collector at the top of a 640-foot tall tower until it reaches a temperature of 1,050 degrees Fahrenheit.

The power plant’s electricity generation capacity (basically, how much it can generate) is 110-MW, which makes it one of the larger-scale solar power plants out there today.

You might have guessed by now that this type of power plant is able to provide electricity at night, and all week, because it stores heat in the form of salt that is released in the evening so that the plant can continue to generate electricity when it is dark, cloudy, or stormy.

“This solar technology is a genuine alternative to baseload coal, nuclear or natural gas burning electricity generation facilities,” Kevin Smith, SolarReserve’s chief executive, said in a statement.

Opponents of solar energy usually use the fact that there is no sunlight at night against solar power plants and say that they cannot provide electricity at night, which is not true. It is actually a cost issue that makes it impractical (traditionally, I’m not sure how economical this new plant or others like it will be) to generate electricity at night using a solar plant.

Hopefully this milestone project turns out to be economical and works well.

*A heliostat is a motorized mirror which is able to position itself accordingly so that it can reflect the maximum amount of sunlight required onto the collector in conjunction with thousands of others.

h/t Forbes

Related Articles:

  1. First (somewhat) Large-Scale Concentrated Photovoltaic Plant in U.S to be Constructed
  2. BrightSource Gets Department of Energy Loan Guarantee if Tortoise Issue Solved
  3. Google’s Largest Cleantech Investment Yet (In California!)
  4. BrightSource Energy is First to Qualify for 30% Recovery Act Federal Funding
  5. New Solar Thermal System Sucks More Energy from the Sun

Photo Credit: Sandia National Laboratory via Mrshaba on Wikimedia Commons

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About the Author

writes on CleanTechnica, Gas2, Kleef&Co, and Green Building Elements. He has a keen interest in physics-intensive topics such as electricity generation, refrigeration and air conditioning technology, energy storage, and geography.

His website is: Kompulsa.com.

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  • Financial_wizar

    It does not make any sense for individual family to put up solar panel on their house roof for only 5% of energy save at $25K cost.

    Obama should help issue bonds to allow private construction section build a mega solar thermal plant zone, and let the future utilities pay the interest at 6-7%.

  • Financial_wizar

    This plant is not large scale at all. Why not take 90 sq miles of desert area in Nevada and Cal as a special solar thermal energy zone, which would be enough to produce the electricity for whole California and Nevada’s residences and manufacture industries? Highly concentrated solar thermal power zone makes a lot of sense for a new smart power grid to support and economy of cost and maintenance.

    • Anonymous

      you cannot just go out and buy any land you feel like. You have to get permission from animal right activist. The land shouldn’t displace any animals or come in the way of any animal migrations etc etc. Getting land approval is pretty tough.

      • So because of environmentalists, we have to continue burning gobs of fossil fuels which in turn kill more animals than exist all of Nevada.

    • The planet is 75% water why not build the solar plant on the garbage pile the size of Texas in the northern pacific treat it like its own land mass an utilize it. plenty of water for steam generation could build a desalination plant, a solar plant and have wind turbines see thats how you make lemons into lemonade Ha! Ha!… now im hungry!!

  • Michael R.

    Regarding this sentence:

    “SolarReserve power plant utilizes what is called thermal energy storage to store heat collected from the sun, which is then utilized by the power plant to boil water and produce steam.”

    While it is encouraging to see the government investing in large scale, renewable energy projects, building a thermal energy storage system such as this is NOT completely renewable, insofar as it is dependent on a LARGE volume of water that must be replenished (assuming that this is not a totally closed system that can recapture the steam, and condense it back to water)…in the middle of a DESERT!

    Hydrological analysis of this region (southwest US) indicates long-term drought conditions…which will impact millions of people…this system will place greater demand on a diminishing resource (water).

    Barring a local source of plentiful water, what we should be building is DIRECT conversion (solar to electricity) solar power systems, connected to a power grid of some kind.

    Source: Clean Technica (http://s.tt/12tl3)

    • Anonymous

      Good point.

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