The sun supports almost all life on earth. Plants have harnessed the sun’s rays for millions of years. Reptiles need to ‘charge up’ in the sun before they have enough energy to do anything. It is about time we really started taking more advantage of the sun ourselves.
|Bright Source’s “Power Tower” pilot plant.
(Photo: Bright Source Energy)
Solar technology has come a long way since 1830 when British Astronomer, John Frederick William Herschel, designed a solar thermal box to heat his food in the African wilderness.
Arnold Goldman, founder and chairman of Bright Source Energy, Inc. (also the founder of Luz International) was one of the first to prove that solar power has the potential to power huge areas affordably. With the Luz International team, Goldman built nine Solar Electricity Generating Stations (SEGS) in the California desert which still deliver to the grid over 300 megawatts of electricity during full sun. These stations are designed to convert sunlight into heat. This sounds logical enough; Solar fields made of reflecting mirrors bounce sunlight to a power tower filled with oil. The hot oil travels to the generator, where the heat causes the water to turn into steam. This hot air is then used to drive a turbine to produce electricity. BrightSource calls this technology Distributed Power Tower, or DPT.
As the technology continues to advance, the potential of these Distributed Power Towers is immense. Even in the past 20 years the DPT technology has evolved to where the new plants heat the steam to a temperature of 550 degrees Celsius, as opposed to the older versions which only heat up to 375 degrees.
Weather isn’t always perfect and many wonder if these generators are a good idea in areas outside of the sunny California desert. Fortunately, distributed power towers have backup units that allow us all to continue watching TV or doing our laundry at night and on those sunless cloudy days. In fact, one of the leaders in solar technology use is Germany. This is definitely not a country known for its sunny beaches or hot weather.
BrightSource explains: “Unlike the photovoltaic systems typically installed on rooftops, CSP plants produce their electricity by first producing steam then using that steam to generate electricity. Thus, CSP plants can be fitted with gas-fired boilers to produce steam when the sun is not shining, enabling the plants to produce electricity at any time. This provides valuable back-up generation capacity to utility companies for use when wind power is not available, or demand is unusually high. Another method is to install thermal storage to store heat during the daylight hours and release that heat during the night to make electricity. At this time, such storage systems are not economical, but it is anticipated that the cost will come down and make the use of solar power viable around-the-clock.”
Solar Power seems like an obvious choice in the future, especially with the unfavorable fluctuations in fossil-fuel prices. Since CSP plants don’t use fuel, the energy costs associated with this technology remain relatively constant.
Another convincing fact is that the new 400 megawatt Solar Power Complex being built by BrightSource in California’s Mojave Desert will power 250,000 homes and reduce carbon dioxide emissions by over 500,000 tons per year! Imagine what the next plant will accomplish.
You won’t have to worry so much about accidentally leaving the lights on.
If you want to read up on more facts visit www.brightsourceenergy.com