A Tower of Molten Salt Will Deliver Solar Power After Sunset

For the first time, solar thermal can compete with natural gas during nighttime peak demand

3 min read
A Tower of Molten Salt Will Deliver Solar Power After Sunset
Pillar Of Salt: More than a million square meters of mirrors focus on a tower of molten salt to generate power for the Las Vegas Strip.
Photo: SolarReserve

Solar power projects intended to turn solar heat into steam to generate electricity have struggled to compete amid tumbling prices for solar energy from solid-state photovoltaic (PV) panels. But the first commercial-scale implementation of an innovative solar thermal design could turn the tide. Engineered from the ground up to store some of its solar energy, the 110-megawatt plant is nearing completion in the Crescent Dunes near Tonopah, Nev. It aims to simultaneously produce the cheapest solar thermal power and to dispatch that power for up to 10 hours after the setting sun has idled photovoltaics.

“When the grid wants 110 MW, we’ll provide 110 MW. There will be no variability,” says Kevin Smith, CEO for SolarReserve, the plant’s developer, based in Santa Monica, Calif.

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How to Prevent Blackouts by Packetizing the Power Grid

The rules of the Internet can also balance electricity supply and demand

13 min read
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How to Prevent Blackouts by Packetizing the Power Grid
Dan Page
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Bad things happen when demand outstrips supply. We learned that lesson too well at the start of the pandemic, when demand for toilet paper, disinfecting wipes, masks, and ventilators outstripped the available supply. Today, chip shortages continue to disrupt the consumer electronics, automobile, and other sectors. Clearly, balancing the supply and demand of goods is critical for a stable, normal, functional society.

That need for balance is true of electric power grids, too. We got a heartrending reminder of this fact in February 2021, when Texas experienced an unprecedented and deadly winter freeze. Spiking demand for electric heat collided with supply problems created by frozen natural-gas equipment and below-average wind-power production. The resulting imbalance left more than 2 million households without power for days, caused at least 210 deaths, and led to economic losses of up to US $130 billion.

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