Solar thermal power

by Antonio Pasolini on February 29, 2008

The solar power revolution continues at full steam (or should it be ‘full beam’?) with more breakthroughs ande openings being reported everywhere. Greenbang, for instance, writes that the state of Victoria in Australia will be home to the largest photovoltaic stations in the world. The mega power plant will begin generation in 2010 and be fully completed by 2013, the “result of a deal struck between Aussie firm Solar Systems and energy company TRUenergy, apparently worth $290 million, with TRUenergy snaffling 20 percent ownership of Solar Systems.”

On the technological innovation front, Technology Review has a fascinating article about solar thermal power, which it describes as a “low-tech alternative to photovoltaic panels that convert sunlight directly into electricity…In a solar thermal plant, mirrors concentrate sunlight onto some type of fluid that is used, in turn, to boil water for a steam turbine.” And what’s the advantage of that? Apparently, there are two: cost and storage capacity. Solar thermal power is relatively low cost at a large scale. While wind power, for example costs 8 cents per kilowatt, solar thermal power costs 13 to 17 cents. But “power from wind farms fluctuates with every gust and lull; solar thermal plants, on the other hand, capture solar energy as heat, which is much easier to store than electricity. Utilities can dispatch this stored solar energy when they need it – whether or not the sun happens to be shining.”

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