This is an excerpt from EERE Network News, a weekly electronic newsletter.

August 24, 2005

Spain to Build an 11-Megawatt Solar Power Tower

Photo of hundreds of flat mirrors mounted on central pillars and tilted at various angles on a flat stretch of desert land. In the background, a latticework of metal forms a tower that holds a black cylindrical solar energy receiver. The other power plant components are clustered near the tower, but are barely visible.

This 1996 photo shows the solar tower and surrounding field of mirrors for Solar Two, a demonstration project located near Barstow, California.
Credit: Warren Gretz

A solar energy technology largely abandoned in the United States is now being commercialized in Spain: Solucar Energia, S.A., an Abengoa company, is building an 11-megawatt solar power tower near Seville. Called PS10, the power plant will be the largest solar power system in Europe and the first tower-based solar power system to generate electricity commercially. The system will consist of a field of 624 large mirrors mounted on computer-controlled pedestals to focus sunlight onto the top of a 330-foot tower, generating steam to turn a turbine and produce electricity. Telvent is supplying the control system for the computer-controlled mirrors, which are called "heliostats." The plant will benefit greatly from last year's royal decree that will allow it to sell power for up to three times the normal rate. See the Telvent press release (PDF 55 KB) and the description of PS10 and news on the royal decree from SolarPACES, an international cooperative organization for solar thermal power. Download Adobe Reader.

DOE operated a similar plant in the southern California desert as a test facility. The plant operated in the 1980s under the name Solar One, boiling water to steam in a solar tower. The plant was later revived in the 1990s as Solar Two, which used molten salt as the fluid to collect heat in the tower, store the heat, and transfer the heat to water, which was boiled to steam. Solar Two shut down in April 1999. See the summary of the project on the SunLab Web site.

Meanwhile, the Weizmann Institute of Science in Israel has developed a process to convert metal oxides, such as zinc oxide, into their pure metal form using solar heat. The metal can later be reacted with water to generate hydrogen. The process was developed using the solar heat from a solar tower located at the Weizmann Institute's Canadian Institute for the Energies and Applied Research. See the Weizmann Institute press release.