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.
- First (somewhat) Large-Scale Concentrated Photovoltaic Plant in U.S to be Constructed
- BrightSource Gets Department of Energy Loan Guarantee if Tortoise Issue Solved
- Google’s Largest Cleantech Investment Yet (In California!)
- BrightSource Energy is First to Qualify for 30% Recovery Act Federal Funding
- New Solar Thermal System Sucks More Energy from the Sun
Photo Credit: Sandia National Laboratory via Mrshaba on Wikimedia Commons
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