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Archive for December 20th, 2006

Concentrated solar power could provide the world’s entire electricity needs

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How mirrors can light up the world
Scientists say the global energy crisis can be solved by using the desert sun

Ashley Seager
Monday November 27, 2006

This story I missed despite my regular reading of The Guardian, and it was brought to my attention by the David Suzuki Foundation‘s Climate Clips.

CSP technology is not new. There has been a plant in the Mojave desert in California for the past 15 years. Others are being built in Nevada, southern Spain and Australia. There are different forms of CSP but all share in common the use of mirrors to concentrate the sun’s rays on a pipe or vessel containing some sort of gas or liquid that heats up to around 400C (752F) and is used to power conventional steam turbines.

The mirrors are very large and create shaded areas underneath which can be used for horticulture irrigated by desalinated water generated by the plants. The cold water that can also be produced for air conditioning means there are three benefits. “It is this triple use of the energy which really boost the overall energy efficiency of these kinds of plants up to 80% to 90%,” says Dr Knies.

This form of solar power is also attractive because the hot liquid can be stored in large vessels which can keep the turbines running for hours after the sun has gone down, avoiding the problems association with other forms of solar power.

The cost of the elctricity is estimated to be around $50 per barrel oil equivalent – and this price would fall as mass production introduces economies of scale. But if you can also use the other benefits the cost gets competitive with natural gas generation.

It seems to me that the claim about meeting all electricty needs does not even need to be made. There must be plenty of places around the world where this sort of power generation would be welcome now. Las Vegas and Phoenix – maybe even Oliver – spring to mind immediately.

Written by Stephen Rees

December 20, 2006 at 12:20 pm

Posted in energy