If you happen to travel to Las Vegas, you can come across a tall tower surrounded by around 1,800 mirrors. Mirrors size may be equivalent to a billboard. Don’t confuse it with a futuristic movie set. It is an alternative energy power plant committed to produce clean and green energy in desert areas. The project could be completed by 2013. It might utilize an array of 15,000 heliostats to direct sunlight to a solar collecting tower. The solar collector might be at a height of 600 feet. Twenty five feet wide mirrors can also be utilized to direct sunlight to the tower.
The mirrors would direct the heat of the sun towards the tower containing molten salt. The molten salt would start flowing through the receiver leading to the generation of powerful steam. We know the power of steam and how it inspired James Watt to develop steam engine. So here the steam, like that coming out of a nozzle of a boiling tea kettle, could easily drive a turbine. The mechanical movement of turbine could be converted to create electricity.
A Santa Monica-based energy firm known as SolarReserve in association with a rocket maker in Canoga Park is planning to set up a much larger plant in this desert area to power around 100,000 homes. This power plant will consume molten salt, water, sun’s heat and rocket science to generate electricity. SolarReserve have already patented the technology. Engineers from Rocketdyne are instrumental in developing this technology. Terry Murphy who is the president of SolarReserve says, “Molten salt is the secret sauce.” Many technological ideas are being in various state of readiness to be implemented in California. But analysts found molten salt technology as most unusual and at the same time promising idea. Nathaniel Bullard, a solar energy analyst with New Energy Finance in Alexandria, Va, thinks, “It’s actually something we’ll likely see in a few years. It’s moving along in a nice way, and they have good capital behind it.” Last year the company secured $140 million in venture capital.
The biggest advantage of the molten salt is once cooled, it could be reutilized for the same purpose. The molten salt can be stored for days to generate electricity. We know that storage of power is great problem as far as energy generated from alternative sources. We can store power in a battery on a small scale basis such as car or home. But power for such a large scale can’t be stored in batteries. Murphy elaborates on the solution to power storage, “You can put that (molten salt) into a storage tank that would look much like a tank at an oil refinery. We can store that energy almost indefinitely.”
SolarReserve, is providing funds to the venture and doing the marketing of the project. Many environmentalists groups are voicing concern about the amount of water utilized. But SolarReserve officials are sure that the plant would use one-tenth the amount of water required by a conventional plant.
The technology is comparable to the Rocketdyne engineers developed for the nation’s more notable space programs with one exception, they didn’t use salt! SolarReserve is utilizing the services of same engineers that also worked for the development of the power system for the International Space Station. The same engineers were involved with the propulsion system for the Apollo lunar module