December 20, 2011 • Emerging Technology, Energy Generation, Energy Innovation, Perspectives

One field of heliostats to rule them all…

by Allie Heiniger

Archimedes was not joking around.

Once upon a time in second century Greece, there lived a man named Archimedes who invented all sorts of crazy smart things. One of those things was a heat-ray weapon that was supposedly used to destroy enemy Roman ships. Although the details are not perfectly clear, historians say that Archimedes had 60 soldiers hold up bronze-coated shields aimed at the same small spot on each ship, igniting it within 10 minutes. Pretty impressive stuff for a guy whose last nerd words were supposedly, “Do not disturb my circles.”

Fast-forward 2,000 years to 1968 when Professor Giovanni Francia used Archimedes’ invention in the most peaceful way a heat ray could be used: the worlds first concentrated-solar power plant. This energy efficiency project was able to produce 1 MW from steam at 100 bar and 500°C. Not as impressive as ol’ Archie’s heat ray, but it was still revolutionary for the energy world by taking mirrors and pointing them to a small area in the tower. This concentration of light is then used as a heat source for a conventional power plant.

Currently, the worlds most powerful solar power plant is the legendary PS20 in Spain.  When fully completed in 2013, it will produce approximately 300MW, which is enough sustainable energy for 180,000 homes.  Acciona North America, owner of the Nevada Solar One, estimates, “an energy project utilizing concentrating solar power technology deployed over an area of approximately 100 x 100 miles in the Southwest U.S. could produce enough power for the entire U.S. annually.” Even Archimedes would be proud.

The all seeing eye of the PS10 and SAURON.

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