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New Plants, Research Break Bounds for Concentrating Solar

Torresol Energy has opened the Gemasolar concentrating solar power (CSP) plant, the first commercial-scale plant that uses molten salt to transfer heat

The array near Seville, Spain, is also the first power plant that can generate solar power 24 hours a day, thanks to the salt’s capacity for energy storage, the New York Times reports.

The plant can operate at temperatures of over 1,022 Fahrenheit, higher than plants using a traditional parabolic trough structure. This means that it generates hotter steam, driving its turbine with greater efficiency.

Torresol is a joint venture of Spanish engineering firm Sener and the Abu Dhabi renewable energy company Masdar.

The Gemasolar debut is just one of several recent announcements that highlight the solar industry’s potential to further drive down costs and improve efficiencies through CSP and other new technologies. CSP uses mirrors to reflect and concentrate the sun’s heat.

In Hatch, N.M., NextEra Energy Resources has commissioned the 5 MW Hatch Solar Center, which the company calls the largest CSP plant in North America. The array comprises 84 Amonix 60-kilowatt units, which use dual-axis tracking to maximize energy production.

NextEra Energy Resources owns and operates the plant and sells the power to El Paso Electric under a 25-year power purchase agreement.

And on Tuesday, the Department of Energy announced a $60 million investment over three years for research to advance “cutting-edge” CSP technologies. The department said it is looking for technologies that have the potential to dramatically increase efficiency, lower costs, and deliver more reliable performance, compared to existing commercial and near-commercial CSP systems.

DOE expects to fund about 20 to 22 projects demonstrating new approaches in the design of collectors, receivers, and power-cycle equipment used in CSP systems.

The investment is part of the DOE’s SunShot Initiative, an effort to reduce the cost of solar energy by 75 percent by the end of the decade.

Finally, scientists and engineers at GE’s technology development arm are working on two SunShot projects aimed at halving the cost of rooftop installations for home and commercial building owners. The $3 million commercial rooftop project aims to develop pre-wired and pre-configured components to ease installation.

Recently, GE’s Energy business announced plans to build the largest U.S. solar factory in Aurora, Colorado, producing high-efficiency thin film solar panels.

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3 thoughts on “New Plants, Research Break Bounds for Concentrating Solar

  1. Most of the concepts at Torresol’s Seville plant were also introduced in the Archimede plant in Sicily in July 2010. The Archimede plant is only 5MW, but still commercial size. Archimede uses molten salt both for storage and as the working fluid, with similar working temperatures. The molten salt is stored in vessels for use overnight and on cloudy days. The main difference is that Arcimede is attached to a conventional gas generation plant rather than the stand alone plant at Seville and the high temperature steam produced from the molten salt is used to supplement the gas fired plant’s processes.


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