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World’s Biggest Solar Power Plant Fires Up


In Andalusia, Spain, the world’s biggest solar power plant has fired up. The solar plant, Andasol, includes and incredible 600,000 parabolic mirrors, all electronically following the sun on its daily path across the sky. The lines of solar mirrors cover an area about the size of 210 football fields.

The project, situated in on the Guadix plateau, is a joint venture to the tune of €350 million by four German companies. Because the plant sits at an attitude of 1,100 metres above sea level, the air is clear and less turbulent, so the solar plant is able to collect more solar energy. The site also receives 2,000 hours of sunlight per year.

It’s debatable whether or not big solar power plants like this will end up being the main game in renewable energy. Rather, it could be that eventually most buildings become mini solar (and other renewable energy) power plants, so that a great deal of energy is produced at the most local level possible.

It could also be that that energy is eventually stored locally and shared across national and continental networks, much like the internet works today for sharing data between millions of computers. The power of distributed networks is often underestimated. Just asked the big music labels how quickly it has disrupted their business.

Nevertheless, it’s still relatively early days in solar power generation, and this is an impressive project to see go online at this time. It all helps.

Do you think power plants like this will be the main way of generating solar power in the future?


Via The Independent 
Image CC licensed by Jumanji Solar

Comments on this entry are closed.

  • http://www.purecaffeine.com/ Nathanael Boehm

    I’m a fan of the swarm model rather than hub and spoke, but when it comes to solar power the efficiency loss of having solar panels mounted on buildings that only see clear blue skies less than 10% of the year (think NZ west coast) it doesn’t seem economical, especially when coupled with the low efficiency of PV technology as it currently stands. Also, would be interested to know if they’ve managed some sort of anti-glare otherwise a city topped with solar panels could be a nightmare for pilots!

  • http://twitter.com/michaelbirks Michael Birks

    The thing about solar plants like this one – from the OA, this is a steam turbine plant powered by water heated by the mirrors, rather than a photovoltaic plant – is that they are limited in their generation capacity to when the sun shines.

    For massive solar, I’m slightly more partial to some of the ‘tower’ designs we’ve seen, where the field of mirrors is focussed on a central tower to heat molten salts, whose heat is then used once the sun goes down.

    For distributed PV generation, I’m less convinced. Towns and cities are, generally, high energy use areas, where the requirement is far above the energy they recieve from the sun.  I want to say something like 14W/m^2?  In which case the computer I’m writing this on would need up to 50 m^2, not to mention the water heating, and Heating/Cooling in less moderate areas.

    Your ‘distributed grid’ network _might_ work, but it depends on extremely low loss transmission, which we’re only starting to touch on, and would be perhaps prohibitively expensive to globalise, without even considering the _political_ issues in cross-border generation.  Europe and North America are one thing.  Consider the problems of trying to link in North Africa, or South West Asia.

  • http://twitter.com/Troyss12 Troy

    Well it is more efficient to service solar panels when they are all together like this, but I think you are right, solar panels on people’s rooftops would make more sense. The same with water treatment. I could see communities overlying aquifers, that have water treatments stations that look like regular houses from the outside, but inside it is a small waste water treatment facility. It could just reuse the same water over and over or use the effluent for irrigation. That gets rid of sewers,most pump stations, and potable water mains.

  • http://www.the9billion.com jjprojects

    I don’t think we can judge the future on today’s technology. We have to take into account exponential growth (and lowering of cost), which is definitely happening in solar, and serious innovation. I’m talking over the next 2-3 decades for that distributed network to really get rolling. We’ll need good, cheap on-site storage to be developed, new smart grids built, and significant innovation in solar and other renewable tech. It’ll take decades, but I think it will happen. It has already started.

    As for places like the West Coast, perhaps other forms of renewable energy will work better. They have some serious wind and waves over there. New Zealand is pretty fortunate that it it’s powered by over 70% renewable power already. That’s not to say that the distributed, collaborative model won’t eventually take over :)

  • http://www.the9billion.com jjprojects

    This plant is expected to generate 158,000 MWh/yrhttp://www.nrel.gov/csp/solarpaces/project_detail.cfm/projectID=4

    Interesting idea about water treatment. I wonder if that would be more economical than centralised city systems?

  • http://www.the9billion.com jjprojects

    I agree with you on the concentrating solar plants with molten salt ‘batteries’ for overnight storage and distribution. Good storage is certainly what will be needed for renewables in general, if it’s going to be 24/7, which it needs to be. I think that will eventuate, hopefully sooner rather than later.

    Again, as I said above, in terms of distributed grid networks, I don’t think we can go on today’s technology to judge what will work tomorrow. If we look at a lot of other technology, say mobile phones, computers, and internet, innovation advances exponentially, and costs come down dramatically. I can easily see a time in the not too distant future when solar will be a lot more efficient and powerful, very cheap, and very popular. In addition, I could see it being integrated in building materials, paints, windows, roof tiles, so the cost would become less of a factor.

    As for the political issues, I think that will we worked though over coming years. It seems that it may not happen on a global level, but rather from city to city, region to region and across continents, rather than a top-down political organisation – which would world well with the new distributed network model. 

    Things are going to change :)

  • http://twitter.com/michaelbirks Michael Birks

    Thanks for the reply.

    For starters, it looks like I was out by a couple of orders of magnitude above.  The actual energy input from the sun, at the top of the atmosphere, which I wanted to call 14 W/m^2 is actually closer to 1.4 kW/m^2, attenuated to an average of between 500W and 1 kW per square metre[1], so there’s more theoretical power there than I thought, but that’s still a hard upper limit.

    I’ll accept _some_ arguments by technology, but there’s one big difference: Those technological advances you refer to – Phones, Computers, Internet – have all achieved their innovation by means of miniaturisation. Even the Internet, where the signals aren’t confined to physical land lines.

    As I said, I’ll buy that for generation, subject to the insolation limit, but when it comes to transmission, you’ve still got to string the wires between points A and B. We’ve done that, across a lot of the world, and it took decades. To completely redo it with ‘smart grids’ of superconducting cable is a massive undertaking.

    I occasionally hear talk about ‘beamed power’, using high energy microwaves or whatnot, but I’m extremely sceptical.  Even if it works,avoiding the worst of the atmospheric attenuation,  you’ve got these dangerous pathways through the air that you’ve got to control and police. The same goes for ‘Orbital power’ from satellites.  Nathanael Boehm talked about glare being a problem for pilots Beamed power would be worse.

    [1] http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Insolation#Earth.27s_insolation

  • http://www.the9billion.com jjprojects

    I do accept that it will take decades, perhaps 2-3 decades to start looking good, and 50 years to be at full steam (how long did the industrial revolution take to get going before people realised what was going on?). However, I think massive tasks like this can be achieved in less time than is first thought. All it takes in the political and business will. Back in the early 90s, who would have believed how far the Internet would go in 2 decades? So many people use it daily now.

    Also, when reality finally does set in, I mean really set in, around the world, that climate change thing should massively spur these projects along.

  • james braselton

    hi there use ufo solar panels enough power too power unlimted halo rings with unlimited population