Can you imagine solar power 24 hours a day?
Sounds far-fetched, but it will soon be a reality near Las Vegas. A new solar power plant being planned in Tonopah, Nevada will use heliostat mirrors to focus sunlight on a water tower, superheating water and creating steam that turns a turbine, generating electricity. The solar thermal power plant will not require photovoltaic (PV) solar panels to generate solar power. So-called Concentrated Solar Power (CSP) plants like this one hold great promise for the future of renewable energy.
The Crescent Dunes Solar Energy Project will also use the focused sunlight to heat millions of gallons of molten salt to temperatures as high as 1,050 degrees Fahrenheit. While the salt heats the water to produce steam (which turns the turbines to generate power), it also retains heat overnight. This allows the plant to continue generating solar power throughout the night.
Using solar thermal technology with inexpensive molten salt will allow SolarReserve to provide power at a cost lower than traditional coal or natural gas. With the ability to generate solar power 24 hours a day, the power plant will be able to continually feed clean electricity into the grid at any time, unlike other solar power plants.
SolarReserve estimates the solar power plant design could extend electricity generation operations by as much as 12 hours. The Department of Energy recently announced it would guarantee $737 million in loans for the plant. The Crescent Dunes Solar Energy Project is planned to begin operations in 2013.