Baseload solar power


in Economics, Science, The environment

Museum station in the Toronto subway

Albiasa Solar, a Spanish company, is planning a 200 MW concentrating solar plant in Arizona that will feature the capability of storing heat in molten salt, so it can continue to generate power throughout the night. The plant is expensive, with a cost estimated around $1 billion, but it will require no fuel and produce no waste. Hopefully, it will also provide experience that can be used to reduce the costs of such construction in the future.

All told, concentrating solar with energy storage is a very promising looking technology. It has many of the advantages of fossil fuel and nuclear plants, no fuel requirement, and good sustainability credentials. Plus, there is a lot of high quality solar land available in the southern US, as well as southern Europe, North Africa, and the Middle East.

Needless to say, this is a much more practical way to get 24-hour solar power than space-based systems would be.

{ 14 comments… read them below or add one }

R.K. April 25, 2009 at 3:33 pm

Would this be an appropriate technology to use anywhere in Canada or the UK?

Is anywhere sunny enough for it to be worthwhile?

mek April 25, 2009 at 3:50 pm

Monetary cost doesn’t really measure the real cost of such a thing, does it? I mean heck, that’s $1 billion of economic stimulus – go ahead and build 100 of them. Of actual concern is what types of resources (human, chemical, technological) must be invested, and how limited those are.

Milan April 26, 2009 at 6:22 pm

I think this is the same fallacy Bastiat identified.

While it makes sense to use stimulus money to advance other goals, including climate change mitigation, it is still important to do it in a cost-effective way. After all, we are going to need to pay for all this stuff at some point.

. May 1, 2009 at 5:28 pm

Solar thermal uses heat storage to beat intermittence (05/01/2009)

A solar farm in southern Spain is challenging the stigma that sun-based power is too unreliable to replace polluting coal and nuclear power.

The Andasol 1 solar thermal plant near Granada can store the sun’s heat in vats of lava-like salt and provide nearly round-the-clock power, offering a promising solution for the global climate crisis.

Engineers have designed the molten salt to store heat from solar radiation and later release it to turn water into steam and drive turbines. Andasol 1 came online in November and supplies enough electricity for 50,000 to 60,000 homes year-round. Andasol 2 will be fired up later this year, and Andasol 3 is already under construction.

The completed Andasol project is expected to provide power to 150,000 households, or 600,000 people, when it is complete in 2011.

The idea of turning vast areas of empty desert into solar thermal plants has been catching on since the 64-megawatt Nevada Solar One project was built in 2007 near Las Vegas. More recently, solar thermal farms are beginning to use the molten salt storage technology to maximize the harvest of the sun’s energy.

Some researchers see major potential in the technology once it is scaled up. The German Aerospace Center has estimated that 16,000 square kilometers of solar thermal power plants in North Africa — coupled with a new infrastructure of high-voltage direct-current transmission lines — could provide enough power for all of Europe

solar training June 9, 2009 at 5:17 am

Solar thermal energy is becoming very popular. I read that Australia are aiming for it to be their main source of power by 2050.

. June 21, 2009 at 10:26 pm

Solar-thermal technology
The other kind of solar power

Jun 4th 2009
From The Economist print edition
Energy: Think of solar power, and you probably think of photovoltaic panels. But there is another way to make electricity from sunlight, which arguably has even brighter prospects

IN THE past few months BrightSource Energy, based in California, has signed the world’s two largest deals to build new solar-power capacity. The company will soon begin constructing the first in a series of 14 solar-power plants that will collectively supply more than 2.6 gigawatts (GW) of electricity—enough to serve about 1.8m homes. But to accomplish this feat BrightSource will not use photovoltaic cells, which generate electricity directly from sunlight and currently constitute the most common form of solar power. Instead, the company specialises in “concentrating solar-thermal technology” in which mirrors concentrate sunlight to produce heat. That heat is then used to create steam, which in turn drives a turbine to generate electricity.

Solar-thermal power stations have several advantages over solar-photovoltaic projects. They are typically built on a much larger scale, and historically their costs have been much lower. Compared with other renewable sources of energy, they are probably best able to match a utility’s electrical load, says Nathaniel Bullard of New Energy Finance, a research firm. They work best when it is hottest and demand is greatest. And the heat they generate can be stored, so the output of a solar-thermal plant does not fluctuate as wildly as that of a photovoltaic system. Moreover, since they use a turbine to generate electricity from heat, most solar-thermal plants can be easily and inexpensively supplemented with natural-gas boilers, enabling them to perform as reliably as a fossil-fuel power plant.

. November 2, 2009 at 2:57 pm

“By all accounts, Gore was open to changing positions he brought to the summits. He originally thought that concentrated solar thermal power, in which the sun heats liquids that then power an electric generator, is superior to photovoltaics, in which sunlight produces electricity directly (PVs are the solar panels sprouting on rooftops these days). But “the PV industry surprised people over the last three years with the speed at which costs dropped,” says Cornelius, who is now at Hudson Clean Energy, a private-equity firm. Gore came around. “We are at or near a threshold beyond which photovoltaics will actually have a cost advantage” over concentrated solar as well as fossil fuels, Gore writes. He likes the fact that they can be deployed in small installations—those rooftops—whereas solar thermal projects are immense; he’s impressed that the price of photovoltaics is dropping while their efficiency is rising, thanks to new materials and manufacturing techniques. “Photovoltaics are a prime example of where the developmental pathway had a big impact on my conclusions,” Gore said at his home last month. “The rate of cost reductions and increases in efficiency for PVs is very impressive. PVs probably overtakes concentrated solar thermal within the next half year.””

. November 16, 2009 at 3:19 pm

SolarReserve’s 24/7 solar power plant

Here’s how it works: An array of mirrors called heliostats focuses sunlight on a receiver filled with molten salt; the stored heat can produce steam to run a solar power plant 24/7—the elusive Holy Grail of solar energy. The technology, cast off as a non-commercial curiosity in the age of $18-a-barrel oil, is now being revived and could make Rocketdyne and its parent company, United Technologies, a big player in green tech.

A Santa Monica startup called SolarReserve—founded by, yes, rocket scientists from Rocketdyne—has licensed the solar power tower technology, turning the Silicon Valley model on its head: Take a proven yet obscure technology developed years ago by an old-line tech company and marry it to the entrepreneurial culture of a startup.

The company was in the news last week when it filed an application with California regulators to build a 150-megawatt solar power plant in the Sonoran Desert east of Palm Springs. The Rice Solar Energy Project will be able to store seven hours of the sun’s heat so it can be released when it’s cloudy or at night to create steam that drives an electricity-generating turbine. Future versions of the solar farm will be able to store up to 16 hours of solar energy. Other solar power companies are using energy storage but SolarReserve’s technology is a potential game-changer (more on that in a bit).

darius March 24, 2010 at 4:02 am

This is a really good post. Solar Power really helps a lot and would definitely make the future look sunny. :)

If properly installed, renewable energy systems could help reduce the effects of Climate Change and Global Warming.
I know of another company that was among the first to provide engineered solar thermal and solar electric solutions to

customers in Eastern Ontario.

In its first seven years of operation, this company celebrated several key achievements including the completion of over

100 solar electric and solar thermal installations and the displacement of more than 300 tonnes of green house gases.

Please visit

here you will find what I’ve been talking about.

. April 28, 2010 at 11:33 am

The utility market also serves to highlight the flaws and expense of solar power. A typical utility-scale installation produces power at only a fifth of its maximum capacity, thanks to clouds, night-time, dirty panels and so on. To replace a one-gigawatt coal plant running at 70% of capacity with solar panels would require about half of the 6GW installed worldwide last year.

This is one of the arguments for looking instead at another solar technology, solar thermal, which uses mirrors to concentrate heat, produce steam and thus drive turbines. Efficient solar-thermal plants can in principle be built on the same sort of scale as gas-fired power stations, a few hundred megawatts at a time. Such big plants are harder to finance than small photovoltaic installations, and require more planning permissions and infrastructure, such as transmission lines. But they produce a lot of power. Brightsource Energy, based in California, recently received government loan guarantees for a project in the Mojave desert which, if completed, could deliver more power than all the photovoltaic cells installed in America last year.”

. July 29, 2010 at 9:52 am

Nuclear Energy Now More Expensive Than Solar

“According to an article on the New York Times, a historical cross-over has occurred because of the declining costs of solar vs. the increasing costs of nuclear energy: solar, hardly the cheapest of renewable technologies, is now cheaper than nuclear, at around 16 cents per kilowatt hour. Furthermore, the NY Times reports that financial markets will not finance the construction of nuclear power plants unless the risk of default (which is historically as high as 50 percent for the nuclear industry) is externalized to someone else through federal loan guarantees or ratepayer funding. The bottom line seems to be that nuclear is simply not competitive, and the push from the US government to subsidize it seems to be forcing the wrong choice on the market.”

Study: Solar power is cheaper than nuclear

The Holy Grail of the solar industry — reaching grid parity — may no longer be a distant dream. Solar may have already reached that point, at least when compared to nuclear power, according to a new study by two researchers at Duke University.

It’s no secret that the cost of producing photovoltaic cells (PV) has been dropping for years. A PV system today costs just 50 percent of what it did in 1998. Breakthroughs in technology and manufacturing combined with an increase in demand and production have caused the price of solar power to decline steadily. At the same time, estimated costs for building new nuclear power plants have ballooned.

The result of these trends: “In the past year, the lines have crossed in North Carolina,” say study authors John Blackburn and Sam Cunningham. “Electricity from new solar installations is now cheaper than electricity from proposed new nuclear plants.”

If the data analysis is correct, the pricing would represent the “Historic Crossover” claimed in the study’s title.

Two factors not stressed in the study bolster the case for solar even more:

1) North Carolina is not a “sun-rich” state. The savings found in North Carolina are likely to be even greater for states with more sunshine –Arizona, southern California, Colorado, New Mexico, west Texas, Nevada and Utah.

2) The data include only PV-generated electricity, without factoring in what is likely the most encouraging development in solar technology: concentrating solar power (CSP). CSP promises utility scale production and solar thermal storage, making electrical generation practical for at least six hours after sunset.

. July 5, 2011 at 2:35 pm
. August 9, 2014 at 2:53 pm

Potential for concentrating solar power to provide baseload and dispatchable power

Previous studies have demonstrated the possibility of maintaining a reliable electric power system with high shares of renewables, but only assuming the deployment of specific technologies in precise ratios, careful demand-side management, or grid-scale storage technologies. Any scalable renewable technology that could provide either baseload or dispatchable power would allow greater flexibility in planning a balanced system, and therefore would be especially valuable. Many analysts have suggested that concentrating solar power (CSP) could do just that. Here we systematically test this proposition for the first time. We simulate the operation of CSP plant networks incorporating thermal storage in four world regions where CSP is already being deployed, and optimize their siting, operation and sizing to satisfy a set of realistic demand scenarios. In all four regions, we show that with an optimally designed and operated system, it is possible to guarantee up to half of peak capacity before CSP plant costs substantially increase.

. July 17, 2016 at 2:52 pm

Solar tower generates electricity from molten salt, even when it’s dark

Located deep in the Nevada desert, a 600-foot tower shimmers in the intense rays of sunlight reflected off more than 10,000 giant mirrors. The mirrors concentrate heat on the giant load of sodium and potassium nitrates that are sent to the top of the tower. These salts have extremely high melting points, and can reach temperatures of more than 500 degrees Celsius. Their heat is channeled towards boiling water to produce steam, which spins turbines and generates electricity when needed. When not needed, the salt is stored in insulated tanks on the ground.

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