Spain : Gemasolar Thermosolar Plant generates electricity at night (2011-ONGOING)

Recently completed the Gemasolar Solar Power Plant near Seville in southern Spain does not just look endlessly more fascinating than your average one, as if it were a giant land art project or a trace from outer space. Its relevance also resides in its technological uniqueness, by being the world’s first of its kind that generated electricity at night, making its output up to 3 times higher than that of comparable ones. Max Borka reports.

FOR MORE IMAGES: PLEASE CHECK THE MAPPING THE DESIGN WORLD PHOTO ALBUMS)

Completed in 2011 the Gemasolar Thermosolar power station spreads across 185 hectares of rural land within the city limits of Fuentes de Andalucia in the province of Seville. Originally called Solar Tres, it was later renamed Gemasolar. Its solar field consists of an incredible 2,650 of giant mirrored panels, each 120 m2 in surface and meticulously distributed in a symmetrical circular pattern of concentric rings around a Power Tower that reaches 140m high. The result is not only esthetically most impressive and pleasing –although one needs a bird’s eye view to fully appreciate- but it also responds to a necessity from a functional point of view. For the mirrors – known as heliostats – focus 95 per cent of the sun’s radiation onto the monolithic Power Tower at the center of the plant, using molten salt as its heat transfer fluid and energy storage medium. The generated heat, which mounts to a temperature of up to 900 C, is used to warm molten salt tanks, generating steam to power the station’s turbines. The power is sent through a high-tension line to the substation of Villanueva del Rey (Andalusia, Spain), where it is injected into the grid.

In addition to its molten salt receiver and its heliostats aiming and control system, the most innovative aspect of the plant, is its storage system, which -unlike other solar power stations- allows to store the surplus heat accumulated during sun hours in the tanks, and permits the production of electricity in the absence of solar radiation, for up to 15 hours without any direct solar feed – overnight, or during periods without sunlight. This storage capacity makes the solar power also manageable so that it can be supplied based on demand. The regular sunshine in southern Spain means the facility can therefore operate through most the nights, guaranteeing electrical production for a minimum of 270 days per year. The prolongation of the plant’s operating time in the absence of solar radiation and the improvement in efficiency of the use of the heat thus makes Gemasolar’s output much higher than that which is delivered by other technologies, in facilities that principally have the same power.

Gemasolar was built by Torresol Energy, a joint venture between Abu Dhabi energy company Masdar and Spanish engineering firm SENER. It took two years to construct at a cost of 330 million Euro, partly coming from a subsidy of five million Euros from the European Commission and a loan of 80 million Euros from the European Investment Bank.

The notable increase in the plant’s power efficiency guarantees electrical production for 6,500 hours a year, 1.5 to 3 times more than other renewable energies, under conditions that are similar. The plant is expected to produce 110 GWh / year – enough to supply clean, safe power to 25,000 homes in the Andalucia region, while reducing atmospheric CO2 emissions by more than 30,000 tons a year.

Gemasolar’s innovative technology was based on the Solar Two technology tested in Barstow, California, but the plant is approximately three times the size, and also integrated several innovations introduced after Solar Two was built. It is currently also the first commercial solar plant to apply central tower receiver and molten salt heat storage technology and to have started operation. But according to Enrique Sendagorta, the chairman of Torresol Energy, others will follow, especially since the standardization of this new technology might mean a real reduction in the investment costs for solar plants that are built along the same principles. (mb) www.torresolenergy.com

GEMASOLAR HAS BEEN SELECTED FOR THE MAPPING THE DESIGN WORLD MEETING POINT AT RECIPROCITY, THE DESIGN BIENNIAL FOR SOCIAL INNOVATION IN LIEGE, BELGIUM, FROM OCTOBER 5 TILL OCTOBER 28 2012, AND WILL ALSO FEATURE IN THE ACCOMPANYING MAPPING THE DESIGN WORLD MAGAZINE – FOCUSING ON SOME 100 EXAMPLES OF (DO) GOOD DESIGN PRACTICE FROM AN EQUAL NUMBER OF COUNTRIES.

01 Gemasolar Solar Power Plant 02 Gemasolar Solar Power Plant 03 Gemasolar Solar Power Plant 04 Gemasolar Solar Power Plant 05 Gemasolar Solar Power Plant 06 Gemasolar Solar Power Plant 07 Gemasolar Solar Power Plant 08 Gemasolar Solar Power Plant 09 Gemasolar Solar Power Plant

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