Pushing Boundaries, The Style of Technology

The Tower of (Solar) Power

No, it's not a religious icon, it's a power plant. Which... is a kind of religious icon, I suppose.

Looking like some sort of alien obelisk in a cheesy sci-fi movie, this new version of solar power generation was sent in to us by the incomparable Number_Six.

No, they're not solar panels. They're just mirrors, which are much cheaper.

The idea is remarkably simple, and in fact similar to an episode of Mythbusters from a few seasons back where they tried to set Adam a Greek trireme on fire using only the power of sunbeams and some dark magic.

Basically, they use a bazillion six hundred mirrors to focus the heat of the sun onto a single point. The light is so heavily focused that it actually illuminates the water vapour in the air. That concentrated magic is then focused onto a sort of heat exchanger that uses the transferred energy to boil water. The steam pressure is used to power conventional steam turbines, and the electricity generated is enough to power about 6,000 homes currently, however the designers expect that when the plant is completed, it will provide enough energy for the entire 600,000-person population of Seville, Spain, where it is built.

Interestingly, the designers claim that it still works on cloudy days — albeit at a lower capacity — but that suits its intention perfectly. This plant is constructed as an alternative and supplementary powerplant, designed primarily to offset the dramatic increases in power consumption during the hottest days of the summer as millions of air conditioners kick in. In hot climates like Spain, this power spike can be enormous, and this plant will largely replace the power grid’s reliance on backup oil or gas power generators, which can be fantastically expensive.

Now those of us in Canada have to figure out how to generate electricity from cold, to offset the electrical spike that comes from trying not to freeze to death.

  • I've seen these, and they do show great promise. Some systems use a black body in the tower that the mirrors are focused on to more efficiently take heat from the solar energy. The steam can then be stored as a sort of battery, and used to turn turbines even when the sun is shining on the other side of the globe.

    • dwegmull

      One storage system under consideration is molten salt.

  • I saw this a while back and thought it "badass." Magics is awesome!

  • FЯeeMan

    Didn't they build something similar in the late 70s, early 80s somewhere in the Southwest, like AZ? Maybe that's just when they came up with the idea and did a fancy render water color.

    • skitter

      Computer modeling and actuation of the mirrors is what's come a long way since then.

    • coupeZ600

      The old one, Solar One/Two is in Dagget, CA about 10 miles east of Barstow and easily visible on the north side of I-40. What's cool is when you see it right at Dawn or Dusk and the focal length is all whacked and it makes this really cool corona around the outside of the accumulator.

  • acarr260

    Whoa… there is a power station that is eerily similar to this in Fallout: New Vegas. You even have to fix the power station as part of a quest. I think it was called Helios 1 in the game.

    • coupeZ600

      Gawd, I am so obsessed with that game, a large reason I haven't been around much lately. Helios 1 is roughly based on the Solar One/Two project outside Barstow, CA (I put a linky up above in a reply to FreeMan)

  • cmdrfire

    I understand there's a smaller version of this already in operation, but I don't know the capacity. It is in Spain, as I recall though.

    The only problem with this method (and indeed, all nonregular renewable methods, including photovoltaic and wind) is smoothing the flow to the grid, as the period of greatest energy generation may not be coincident with the period of greatest energy demand. One of the things I'm looking at (tangential to my work designing EV batteries), is a capture and storage method for smoothing such supplies, and it's surprisingly complicated…

  • dwegmull

    Another interesting technology is using a mirror to heat up the hot size of a Sterling cycle engine. I think there is a pilot plant now running somewhere is Southern California.