Environmental Innovation: The Good Kind of Salt

Solar energy, as an alternative energy source, has been making great strides in many areas of the country. Some particularly progressive states have promoted it by giving subsidies for solar construction, even though those states are not the most optimal location for solar collection. It is one of those energy technologies that can be used almost anywhere.

There are two methods of collecting solar energy: solar photovoltaic (PV) and concentrated solar power (CSP).  PV systems, as are seen on roofs of houses, convert sunlight directly into energy;  CSP systems use mirrors to concentrate the sun's beams to a central point which heats water to drive turbines.  One major drawback for both types of solar power has been the unfortunate law of nature that the sun doesn't shine all day.  That problem has now been solved, at least for CSP systems.   

The Andasol Power plant, a CSP solar power plant in Spain, can now pump out electricity for up to 24 hours from solar collection. The trick is to melt salt.

The plant has 2,650 mirrors that are used to concentrate solar beams on a boiler located in the center of the array. The solar power is used to melt salt during the peak hours of production. The liquid salt can be stored while retaining 99% of its heat, which is then used to boil water for steam power. This occurs throughout the day and night. The Spanish plant is estimated to generate about 110GWh per year. This compares to about 40GWh per year for plants not having the storage capacity. That is an environmental innovation that's worth watching.

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