Demonstrating Concentrated Solar Power

Gemasolar Image Credit: Torresol Energy

Image Credit: Torresol Energy

The Motley Fool has an informative piece out today entitled “Solving Solar Power’s Biggest Problem.” The article focuses on the issue of energy generation at night, or in inclement weather and two different projects by the same company using mirrors to concentrate the sunlight, which is called CSP technology.  The company, Torresol Energy out of Spain is using mirrors to concentrate solar energy on a tower to superheat molten salts which can then be used to drive steam generators for up to 15 hours after the sun goes down. Called the Gemasolar project, it produces up to 19.9 MW. This is essentially the same approach being taken on a larger scale in Nevada’s Crescent Dunes project by SolarReserves.

The second project by Torresol is somewhat more conservative, using an oil filled solar concentrator in a trough of solar panels. It is being employed at two sites, Valle 1 and Valle 2, and offers lower upfront cost and increased performance (50 MW output) in exchange for a significantly lower dark limit of 7 hours.

In case your preference is for traditional solar cell technology, research continues to advance in that area as well. From the same story:

“A Durham, North Carolina start-up called Semprius is working on a way of stacking miniature solar cells (each just a millimeter across) together to achieve unheard of efficiency and cost savings. By growing layers of different semiconductor materials, each capturing a different frequency of light, the company has been able to build a solar cell with 44.1% efficiency. Semprius thinks it can eventually achieve efficiency beyond 50% (double current solar cell efficiency) within three to five years.”

As always, any increase in the efficiency and storage of solar based power is highly significant for those interested in an expanding human presence throughout the inner solar system, particularly through primarily non governmental means. For the Moon, it can make the difference in solving the problem of the two week long lunar night. For Mars, with its much more abundant resources,  capturing and storing sufficient solar energy may very well be the linchpin is establishing a growing and self sufficient population.

It should be pointed out as well, that although Innerspace generally used the term “Inner Solar System” to denote anywhere out to and including the Main Asteroid Belt, continuing advances in these fields may begin to extend the range of solar based exploration and eventual habitation much further out, perhaps even as far as the Saturn system. Any way you cut it, until we get a warp drive, that encompasses a fare piece of real estate.

Posted in: Solar Power

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