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Largest Solar Thermal Storage Plant to Start Up

Spanish solar power station will produce 50 MW in the dark

4 min read

1 October 2008--A few weeks from now, the Andasol 1 solar thermal power plant in Andalucía, Spain, will begin charging the largest installation built expressly for storing renewable energy (other than the tried-and-true hydroelectric dam, of course). Heat from the solar thermal power station's 510 000-square-meter field of solar collectors will be stored in 28 500 tons of molten salt--enough to run the plant's 50-megawatt steam turbine for up to 7.5 hours after dark .

It's pretty strange for solar power to generate electricity in the dark. Stranger still for a renewable-energy project is the fact that Andasol 1's developers--German renewable-energy firm Solar Millennium and Madrid-based engineering and construction firm ACS/Cobra--believe the energy storage that makes the plant's output more predictable will also make it more affordable. The developers say Andasol 1's electricity will cost 11 percent less to produce than a similar plant without energy storage--dropping from 303 euros per megawatt-hour to 271 euros per MWh.

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This photograph shows a car with the words “We Drive Solar” on the door, connected to a charging station. A windmill can be seen in the background.

The Dutch city of Utrecht is embracing vehicle-to-grid technology, an example of which is shown here—an EV connected to a bidirectional charger. The historic Rijn en Zon windmill provides a fitting background for this scene.

We Drive Solar

Hundreds of charging stations for electric vehicles dot Utrecht’s urban landscape in the Netherlands like little electric mushrooms. Unlike those you may have grown accustomed to seeing, many of these stations don’t just charge electric cars—they can also send power from vehicle batteries to the local utility grid for use by homes and businesses.

Debates over the feasibility and value of such vehicle-to-grid technology go back decades. Those arguments are not yet settled. But big automakers like Volkswagen, Nissan, and Hyundai have moved to produce the kinds of cars that can use such bidirectional chargers—alongside similar vehicle-to-home technology, whereby your car can power your house, say, during a blackout, as promoted by Ford with its new F-150 Lightning. Given the rapid uptake of electric vehicles, many people are thinking hard about how to make the best use of all that rolling battery power.

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