Solar power gets real

Some of the long parabolic reflectors in the Shams 1 electric power plant in Abu Dhabi.

Some of the long parabolic reflectors in the Shams 1 electric power plant in Abu Dhabi.I love to see this kind of machinery made real. Image from the Shams Image Gallery

I love seeing pictures of real solar electricity generating plant. In a sunny country where peak sun coincides with peak electricity demand – for air conditioning – this makes complete sense. I can’t speak for the finances, but in terms of EROEI, this looks a sensible energy investment.

The BBC recently showed footage of the SHAMS 1 plant in Abu Dhabi. The enterprise also has a web page and wikipedia entry.

There are loads of ways to generate electricity with solar energy. I don’t know that one technology can yet be said to make better sense than any other – but this plant looks relatively low tech and relatively expandable. This must be like in the early days of steam engines or powered flight where people struggled to find optimal engineering solutions.

This plant in fact appears to be a solar-assisted gas-fired steam turbine, where the solar heating is used to reduce the gas consumption, but where gas can be burned as back-up at night or on cloudy days.

There was a mention of the ability to store the solar heat for short periods and so spread the generating time, but it didn’t sound as though this had been implemented.

Why am I mentioning this? Because lots of places in the world are sunny – and many of these places have lots of space. This is unlikely to be a good technology for use in the UK, but for countries near the Equator such a plant must look attractive – exploiting a natural and inexhaustible resource and delivering valuable electricity.

It looks to me like a glimpse into the future. A sustainable future.

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