Report: Storehouses for Solar Energy Can Step In When the Sun Goes Down

Or is this a $737 million taxpayer disaster?

The New York Times reports,

… The Energy Department seems to agree: in September it gave SolarReserve a $737 million loan guarantee for its project in Nevada. The plant will generate 110 megawatts at peak and store enough heat to run for eight to 10 hours when the sun is not shining…

Technical details of the SolarReserve and BrightSource plants vary slightly, but both will use thousands of computer-operated poster-size mirrors aiming sunlight at a tower that absorbs it as heat.

SolarReserve absorbs the heat in molten salt, which can be used immediately to boil water, generating steam that turns a conventional turbine and generator. Hot salt can also be used to retain the heat for many hours for later use. BrightSource heats water that can be used immediately as steam or to heat salt for storage.

The plants rely on salt because it can store far more heat than water can. But once molten, it must be kept that way or it will freeze to a solid in part of the plant where it will be difficult to melt again. “You’ve made a commitment to those salt molecules,” said John Woolard, the chief executive of BrightSource.

The technology is not complicated, but the economics are.

The simplest, least expensive path for solar thermal is to turn the heat into electricity immediately. But the companies are a bit like the farmer who harvests the grain and stores it in a silo rather than shipping it straight to market on the expectation that prices will be higher later. They are betting that in revenue terms, the hour at which the energy is delivered will be more important than the amount generated…

Read the New York Times report.

3 thoughts on “Report: Storehouses for Solar Energy Can Step In When the Sun Goes Down”

  1. The SolarReserve project has a 25-year contract to sell 100% of the power output to NV Energy, the largest utiltiy in Nevada. SolarReserve competed for the contract and was selected by the utility based on price and project attributes. The price is substantially below what it would cost from a new nuke, plus it takes 10-12 years to develop and build a new nuke, which would require 100% government money (with overruns passed through to the ratepayers) and government backed insurance to protect the owner from catastrophic accidents (all nukes in the US need this gov backed insurance). Solar 1 and Solar 2 were pilot proejcts at 1/10 size built for a three year test plan and not intended to be long term commercial facilities.

  2. Abandoned Solar Farms Clutter California Desert
    Solar One was the first test of a large-scale thermal solar power tower plant in the world. In 1995 Solar One was converted into Solar Two, by adding another ring of mirrors surrounding the tower. Solar One/Two is located in Daggett, CA, about 10 miles east of Barstow. Solar Two was decommissioned in 1999

  3. I have no doubt that this is technologically possible. I have every confidence that this will be as useful as those college experiments building vehicles covered with solar cells that proved to be equally possible. How much sun and what kind of reservoir woud it take to reach the heat equivalent of an operational nuclear reactor? Where is the study with those answers that the Energy Department is relying on along with the engineering feasibility and enviornmental studies they must surely [not] be weighing very carefully along with financial evaluations of the company before guaranteeing the loan?

    Yeah, I didn’t think so. The reason for this project more likely lies in who knows whom.

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