Solar power, the holy grail of renewable energy, has always faced the problem of how to store the energy captured from the sun’s rays so that demand for electricity can be met at night or whenever the sun is not shining. The difficulty is that electricity is hard to store. Batteries are not up to efficiently storing energy on a large scale.
The idea is to capture the sun’s heat. Heat, unlike electric current, is something that industry knows how to store cost-effectively. Solar thermal systems are built to gather heat from the sun, boil water into steam, spin a turbine and make power, as existing solar thermal power plants do — but not immediately. The heat would be stored for hours or even days, like water behind a dam.
Ausra, of Palo Alto, Calif., is making components for plants to which thermal storage could be added, if the cost were justified by higher prices after sunset or for production that could be realistically promised even if the weather forecast was iffy. Ausra uses Fresnel lenses, which have a short focal length but focus light intensely, to heat miles of black-painted pipe with a fluid inside. A competitor a step behind in signing contracts, but with major corporate backing, plans a slightly different technique in which adding storage seems almost trivial. It is a “power tower,” a little bit like a water tank on stilts surrounded by hundreds of mirrors that tilt on two axes, one to follow the sun across the sky in the course of the day and the other in the course of the year. In the tower and in a tank below are tens of thousands of gallons of molten salt that can be heated to very high temperatures and not reach high pressure.
Labels: electricity, solar
PermaLink - New Ways to Store Solar Energy Using Fluids, Molten Salt