Solar power - at night!

After the launch a few years ago of the world's first commercial solar power plant, in Sanlucar La Mayor outside Seville, which I visited soon after its lauch, I was excited to read about another plant being planned.
Now, there's yet another new solar power plant, called Gemasolar, which opened last month. Costing 170 million euros, this is the world's first solar power station which can generate electricity at night. Like the PS10 plant, it consists of a (very pretty) spiral pattern of heliostats (mirrored panels) in a field, which focus the sun's radiation onto a giant "receiving" tower at the centre of the field.
Molten salt in tanks is then heated to temperatures of over 500C, creating steam to power the turbines. Because of this, unlike other solar power stations, the heat can be stored in these tanks for up to 15 hours - in other words, overnight - to be converted into power. Thanks to our reliable sunshine here in Andalucia, they estimate that electricity can be produced on at least 270 days per year.
The first day this actually happened was last week, when electricity was supplied, uninterrupted, for 24 hours. Not only that, the company claims the power station was completed on schedule and on budget. WHAT? IN ANDALUCIA? No me lo creo.
The project is a joint venture between Masdar, a name you'll recognise if you get BBC World News, as I do, from their ads (it's an Abu Dhabi energy company) and Spanish engineers SENER subsidiary firm, Torresol Energy. Gemasolar is located in Fuentes de Andalucia, in the north-east of Sevilla province, between Ecija and Carmona.
It's very exciting that all this new technology is being put to use right on my doorstep. And it certainly confirms what I've been thinking for some time - that environmental engineer is the one of the jobs of the future, and might be very desirable indeed for my kids. Must get them some solar-powered toys...
Here are some fast facts about Gemasolar Solar Plant:
According to the owners, it is "the world’s first commercial-scale CSP (commercial solar power) plant featuring a central tower molten salt receiver with thermal storage capabilities".
Cost: 170 million euros
Number of mirrored panels (heliostats): 2,650
Height of receiving tower: 140m
Area of land: 185 hectares
Expected output: 110GW/year
Home powered: 25,000
CO2 emissions saved: 30,000 tonnes
Blog published on 7 July 2011