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Universal Solar Power - 'Solar Tres' and Commercial Solar Thermal Energy

Aug 12, 2008
After the success of Solar One - the world's first large-scale thermal solar power plant - and its update, Solar Two, Europe has now entered into the race for sustained solar power.

Solar Tres, located West of Ejica in the Andalusia district of Spain, has been modeled on the Solar One and Two projects, which were developed and updated in the Marstow Desert, California, in 1981 and 1995. Like its American predecessor, Solar Tres will produce energy through heliostats: large mirror assemblies that track and reflect the sun's rays throughout the day. From there, it is bounced onto a central column, named the 'Solar Power Tower', which absorbs and stores the energy, to be converted into thermal power.

What marks Solar Tres above its prototypes is that it uses molten salt as its conducting fluid, so that the energy can be stored in molten form and converted at any time. It means that the new European Solar Power Tower can be operational 24 hours a day, allowing for greater energy storage and conversion, and it outstrips its US counterparts, which ran on oils, and so had a lower capacity for storage after conversion.

It also looks to expand on the size of Solar One and Two, with a heliostat field that is three times larger than Solar Two at its optimum. It means that Solar Tres has a potential capacity of 15MW, where Solar One and Two could reach a maximum of 10MW. Not only can it run more efficiently, then - working right round the clock - but its output is greater, allowing for sustainable energy that is produced more quickly and in abundance.

By all intents and purposes, it is a larger and more ambitious project. With the backing of the EU Commission, who have provided 5 million Euro through the EU 5th Frame program, it has the potential to move thermal solar power into the competitive energy markets.

After the relative success of the original US Power Tower Plants, the improvements to Solar Tres mean a bold step towards sustainable energy in the world at large. With a project of this scale, it signals a move from personal sustainability initiatives - the efforts made, from individuals to family units - to a potentially full-fledged commercial representation of universal solar power in the community.

It now means that two of the world's major political powers - The US, and the EU - are committing themselves to the importance of sustainable energy. Whilst Solar One and Two are now closed, they represent important first examples of what Solar Tres can now make possible.

And that is not to say that the US have abandoned the pursuit; upon the closure of the original Solar One and Two site in 2001, they commenced production of Nevada Solar One, which became operational in 2007, and boasts a maximum production capacity of 75MW. With three major Solar Power Tower Plants built since 1995, moves to a genuine production of solar power are being implemented on both sides of the Atlantic. Sustainable energy is a real possibility. Let's hope other nations follow suit.
About the Author
Chris Woolfrey is the solar panels expert at www.EcoSwitch.com The environmental social network EcoSwitch
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