World's First Solar Plant To Generate Electricity Even At Night

The most obvious criticism of solar energy is that it doesn't work very well when the sun is down. The new Gemasolar heliostatic plant doesn't have that problem, on account of a vat of molten salt that keeps it running through 15 hours of dark.

More than 2600 concentrically arranged mirrors at the Gemasolar installation just outside of Seville, Spain concentrate solar energy towards a centrally located molten nitrate salt tank. As the rays converge, they super-heat the salt to over 900C, causing water around the tank to boil and drive steam turbines. In addition, any superfluous heat generated during the day is stored within the liquefied salt. It acts like a giant thermal battery for driving the turbines at night and during overcast days -- up to 15 hours at a time with no sunlight. Seville, Spain, however, is one of the sunniest areas in Europe, so that doesn't happen very often.

The $US410 million Gemasolar plant just opened and has a potential output of 20 megawatts, though it is currently operating below that capacity (officials expect it could reach 70 per cent capacity by 2012). It's the largest solar power station of its type in Europe, and it has an annual production total or roughly 110 GWh/year -- enough to power 25,000 homes and reduce atmospheric CO2 emissions by more than 30,000 tons a year.

The combination of thermal energy storage and sunny weather guarantees that the Gemasolar plant can operate for at least 6500 hours a year, up to three times longer than other renewable sources.

[Euronews, Geekosystem, Geeksailor, The Energy Collective]

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    For AUD $2.45 billion wasted on roof insulation scheme, we could have 5 such solar power stations.

      Too right. And that makes me ashamed to be an Australian! We really need to be more ambitious with this stuff. What's a great project

      And power 125,000 homes? Not that great really. Other options exsist which would provide a far greater return.

        A quote of 125,000 homes at the estimation on AUD2.45b is absolutely nothing to balk at, especially as it's using base load-style energy storage technology on a now commercial level.

        What other options? Dirty coal or high investment, high maintenance and high in NIMBY-ism nuclear power? It's all about energy diversity my friend, and as Spain is the leader in solar tech, this fellow sun-bathed nation should take heed.

        We already stuffed up an opportunity for building a solar updraft tower which has the ability to cultivate cash crops and only needs sun and plenty of land.

      I agree with the logic, although I'd say that the money would have been better spent on one or two such power stations plus a concerted invesetment so that the CSIRO can find a way to bring solar closer to a viable baseload solution.

    Nice work! Keep them coming...

    At the moment, nuclear fission is the best and cleanest baseload solution. At the moment, even a solar station like this will best serve as a supplement to the grid.

    However, even as such I think that such solar stations could replace on-demand gas-fired power stations that spin up to cope with absolute peak demands, but are very expensive to run.

    We can collect and focus the Sun's energy far better than the plants that created our fossil fuels - storage is the biggest hurdle we face. Molten salt is nothing new, but it's good to see that development continues.

      Depends on what you call clean, but I agree. Gen IV is just going to get better. I'd love to see some international cooperation to build one here.

      Western Australia is the home of gas turbines. We use them for peak and base (60% state electricity production) and suffered for it in 2008 when a processing plant providing a third of our needs exploded.

      And with a state monopoly for non-industry we pay the price dearly. I'd love to see my money going towards more investment in solar and wind (or nuclear, but watch out for the NIMBY monster). Wind power has presence in Australia, but pales in comparison to anything in the northern hemisphere.

    EnviroMission's Solar tower is capable of generating 200MW of power and also works 24/7. I am really interested to see how well the concept works when the Arizona plant is completed.

      That damned thing was supposed to be built here! We could've yielded green power and green "medicinal" power!!!

      Even Namibia is planning one hell of a tower (1.5km @ 400Mw).

    So $123 Billion and you could built 300 of these and power everyhold in Australia (industry is nother issue)

    $123 billion sounds huge but that only breaks down to just under $5400 per person, which when you really think about it isn't that much.

    Break that cost over 10 years (it would take that long to build them), $540 for the country to be the greenest in the world... really makes you wonder what the hell government is doing.

      But how will the government tax the power industry for their porposed(?) carbon tax policy =P

    bring it! this technology in the home would be greater - less infrastructure required and more land space to install panels (roofs) This is a really good energy solution and I hope the government picks this tech up soon

    Labour in Australia is expensive! That's one of the main reason for such as costly investment

    All of you Aussies are correct. Australia would be the easiest country in the world to solarize. Did any of you see the article in Rolling Stone about your homeland ? If is is 50% accurate it is a very scary situation you may be in.

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