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Solar thermal technology deemed a success

Solar Two
Since the molten salt retains the sun's heat long into the night, the Solar Two plant can generate electricity even after the sun sets.  

September 1, 1999
Web posted at: 12:40 p.m. EDT (1640 GMT)


An experimental solar energy plant in Daggett, Calif., was declared a success Monday by U.S. officials who said the technology is immediately applicable to sun-drenched markets where energy costs are high.

The plant, known as Solar Two, uses nearly 2,000 giant mirrors to reflect sunlight onto a centrally located 300-foot tall receiver. Molten salt, which flows through the receiver, is heated to 1,065 degrees Fahrenheit and transferred to a storage tank. When electricity is needed, the liquid churns a steam generator.

The solar thermal facility generates 10 megawatts of electricity - enough electricity to power 10,000 homes. Since the molten salt retains the sun's heat
giant mirrors
Nearly 2,000 giant mirrors reflect the sunlight onto the receiver.  
long into the night, the plant can generate electricity after the sun sets, said Christopher Powers, a spokesman from the Department of Energy.

"We're proud of Solar Two's success as it marks a significant milestone in the development of large-scale solar energy projects," said U.S. Energy Secretary Bill Richardson. "It takes us a step closer to making renewable energy a significant contributor to the global energy mix, while helping to make our environment cleaner."

The greatest value of the technology, other than being non-polluting, is that it can provide electricity during hours of peak demand. Thus a utility can use solar thermal energy instead of building another coal-fired plant to supply electricity during peak hours, said Powers.

Despite the success of the experiment, the Department of Energy does not see the technology taking off in the United States. It is cost prohibitive, with coal and natural gas being less expensive.

However, Powers said those countries in the Middle East, where electricity is expensive and there is abundant sunlight, the technology is immediately applicable.

"It could have real world applications today where electricity is expensive and there is tons of sunlight," he said.

Copyright 1999, Environmental News Network, All Rights Reserved

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