The Future is Orange

I don’t know if you’ve already heard about it, but the first commercial solar energy plant, (located near Seville, Spain) was inaugurated a while ago (30th March). It is an 11 Megawatt plant, called PS10 and:

solar tower…the project produces electricity with 624 large movable mirrors called heliostats.

Each of the mirrors has a surface measuring 120 square meters (1,290 square feet) that concentrates the Sun’s rays to the top of a 115 meter (377 foot) high tower where a solar receiver and a steam turbine are located. The turbine drives a generator, producing electricity.

I got that quote from an excellent article here. You can read a lot more there about some of the future plans of the EU for solar power there. Go directly to the website of the company that built it, Solucar, for more information and images of the plant.

solar mirrors

The 625 mirrors with the central tower, all glowing from the reflected sunlight, is quite an other-worldly sight apparently. I learned this from a nice report by David Shukman on the BBC website*. He visits it, and describes it in detail for you there. Quoting:

solar tower IIFrom a distance, as we rounded a bend and first caught sight of it, I couldn’t believe the strange structure ahead of me was actually real.

A concrete tower – 40 storeys high – stood bathed in intense white light, a totally bizarre image in the depths of the Andalusian countryside.

The tower looked like it was being hosed with giant sprays of water or was somehow being squirted with jets of pale gas. I had trouble working it out.

In fact, as we found out when we got closer, the rays of sunlight reflected by a field of 600 huge mirrors are so intense they illuminate the water vapour and dust hanging in the air.

The effect is to give the whole place a glow – even an aura – and if you’re concerned about climate change that may well be deserved.

There’s also a video of his visit, which is worth watching

-cvj

(*Thanks Oliver!)

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11 Responses to The Future is Orange

  1. spyder says:

    Now if CA can pass a second and third (and ever more) million solar roofs bills, then a few of these plants located around the state could power it right up for centuries. I can’t imagine what keeps that from happening????

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  3. Pyracantha says:

    Why orange? (It’s my favorite color, I even have an orange car.)

  4. Carl Brannen says:

    Did you happen to see where the cooling towers were? I.e. what do they do with all that spent steam. I would think it would generate steam clouds that would reduce the plant’s efficiency but of course they would avoid that.

  5. Clifford says:

    Pyracantha:- The phrase means nothing in the USA, but it is probably familiar to people from the UK. The connection is the location, of course.

    Anyone?

    -cvj

  6. ak says:

    Canada’s Ontario government just signed a contract with a California company to build a massive commercial solar energy plant in Sarnia, close to Detroit across the border. It will have 1 million solar panels generating 40 MW.

    http://www.energy.gov.on.ca/index.cfm?fuseaction=english.news&body=yes&news_id=149

  7. Clifford says:

    ak – That’s really interesting.. I did not know Canada was going to be doing something like that so soon, and so boldly…. Thanks for the link!

    -cvj

  8. candace says:

    The future is orange == seville oranges (used in marmalade) + a mobile phone company (Orange) slogan.

    This is an interesting project, but it still strikes me that solar power is awfully inefficient.

  9. Paul Mison says:

    There have been several similar plants in the south-western US: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Solar_power_plants_in_the_Mojave_Desert

    As the article implies, for California peak load tends to happen at the times when peak generation would occur, which is handy. Unfortunately that breaks down for the UK (there’s much less air conditioning and it’s colder in winter, so peak energy demands are in winter evenings).

    It’s odd, but I’ve seen pricing that implies that solar thermal heating is actually more cost-effective than photovoltaics, even though you have to go through all the extra steps (heating water, running turbines) than you do with something that generates electricity from the start. Presumably this is to do with the high cost and low efficiency of the current generation of solar cells.

    Solar heating is also much better in a domestic context – presumably this is what’s referred to in spyder’s comment – since you can heat and store water for domestic use. Storing hot water is a lot easier than storing electricity.

  10. Lab Lemming says:

    11 MW? So they only need to build 226 more of these to match the generating capacity of a 2.5 GW nuclear plant…

  11. Solar power is inefficient? It’s basically free. About a horsepower per square meter. The real question is this: Is it dangerous?

    Mirrors are easy to make and maintain. We know steam->electricity really pretty well now. This isn’t photovoltaics. I’d bet that nearly half of the energy comes out of wire. The heat generated and vented is heat you’d get from the Sun anyway. In fact, cooling towers probably radiat this heat into space more efficiently than it would happen naturally.

    Contrast this with Nuclear power. The fuel is about $10 per megawatt hour. Nearly free. But the end cost is as high as coal, etc. And that’s without worrying about spent fuel. Why? Well, the stuff is so dangerous that you have to check, double check, triple check, and then provide an absurdly long paper trail for any little thing you do. The result is that it’s just as expensive, if not more than anything else.