Concentrating solar power, the rapidly-growing alternative to photovoltaic power, continues its expansion. A joint venture between two energy companies, one from Spain and one from Abu Dhabi, is set to build 6 GW of new CSP in the next three years in Spain, the US, and the Middle East.
The company, Torresol Energy, is a joint venture between Spain’s Sener and Abu Dhabi’s Masdar. It recently opened two new 50-MW concentrating solar power sites in Spain. But its new plans put those stations in the, well, shade.
Torresol Energy plans to invest up to $5 billion in new concentrating solar energy plants in Spain, the United Arab Emirates and wider Middle East, North Africa, and the sunny southwestern US. If it’s able to secure all the funding it’s looking for, it should be adding a total of 6,000 MW of new capacity. That’s the same capacity as the United Kingdom’s entire wind sector.
At least one of the plants will be built in Abu Dhabi, not surprising since one of the venture partners hails from there—in fact, Masdar is a green energy specialist owned by the Abu Dhabi government. Still, it’s cheering to think that the Emirate is so flush with oil money that one of its richer Sheikhs who had his name carved into the ground in half-mile-tall letters is going to have a new solar plant.
The most exciting projects, though, might be those in North Africa. Many believe that a vast network of CSP stations in North Africa could one day supply a large proportion of Europe’s energy needs.
Concentrating solar power stations might achieve similar things to the better-known photovoltaic variety—take sunshine and produce energy—but they get there by a very different route. While photovoltaic power uses electronic cells to convert sunlight directly into energy, CSP takes a more indirect route, using hundreds of specially-designed mirrors—known as heliostats—to reflect the sun onto a single space, heating it intensely.
Inside that space, usually a tower, is a special fluid solution. That superheated fluid can then be used to generate power in much the same way the steam in an old-fashioned, coal-fired steam engine does. But unlike PV power, it can also be stored for more gradual use using relatively low-cost thermal storage equipment (essentially highly-insulated storage for the heated liquid). That means CSP is arguably a better replacement for fossil fuels than PV, because it can be used to provide power even when the sun isn’t shining (for more on this, see Keeping the Lights On: Why Concentrating Solar Power is Vital to Tomorrow’s Energy Mix).
For more on concentrating solar power, see Some Skepticism on Solar Thermal Power’s Storage Potential.