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Friday, November 16, 2007
CSP: Concentrating Solar Power (Solar Two - DOE and Sandia)
Image: courtesy of US DOE (www.energy.gov)

Sustainable Solar Thermal Energy

In the deserts of southern Nevada in the United States, lies a large potential source of solar thermal energy. The utilisation of glass mirrors arranged in a parabola shape to concentrate solar energy onto receiver towers will turn Nevada into the zero emissions energy State for the United States. Concentrating solar power and wind power are the cleanest forms of energy available to humanity.

The concentrating solar power industry (CSP) is in its early stages, but like the way petroleum oil took over from whale oil, zero emissions CSP energy will grow as more stringent environmental regulations become a necessity and the inability of oil producers to meet the increasing global demand for oil pushes its price up.

The United States Department of Energy (DOE) has been a strong supporter of the CSP technology and built Solar One in 1982 (10 megawatts of power) and Solar Two (also 10 megawatts of power). Solar Two was constructed between 1992 and 1996 under the leadership of the DOE with operations from April 1996 to April 1999 generating power.

CSP technology uses the power of the Sun's photon energy and concentrates it up to 1000 times onto a central tower to heat up circulating liquid molten nitrate salt to a temperature as much as 565 degrees celcius. The molten salt can be stored in a 'hot' tank for no solar conditions power generation or immediately circulated through a steam generator series of turbines to produce electricity.

In Seville in Spain, the Spanish renewable energy company Abengoa has been producing electricity from CSP energy since March 2006. Their PS-10 CSP tower produces 11 megawatts, and Abengoa plans to build enough towers to produce 300 megawatts of power by 2013 in Seville. When fully functioning, the 300 MW plant will be supplying power to 180,000 homes.

CSP energy will become commercially successful in many high intensity solar regions, and the cost to build these plants will come down in price as efficiencies are found. Like wind power, this is the clean energy technology of the future. With global regulations for air pollution expected to become more stringent, CSP energy will find its place in the commercial landscape very soon.

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