CSP: It’s all done with mirrors


NYT‘s Green Inc explains:

A picture was worth 24,000 mirrors when eSolar, a company based in Pasadena, Calif., that specializes in solar thermal power, transformed a vast field of heliostats at its Southern California solar farm into a Fourth of July tableau of the American flag and the Statue of Liberty….

[CEO Bill] Gross, the founder of the tech-incubator Idealab, contends that eSolar can deliver electricity cheaper than natural gas by using sophisticated algorithms to control inexpensive and lightweight mirrors called heliostats….

“We have such precise control over the field that we can do anything with the mirrors we want,” Mr. Gross said, “and this is proof of it.”

See also “Concentrated solar thermal power Solar Baseload “” a core climate solution.”

5 Responses to CSP: It’s all done with mirrors

  1. Mark Shapiro says:

    I’m beginning to like eSolar’s approach even more than Ausra’s. It also uses many flat mirrors instead of more expensive curved ones, but eSolar concentrates the light more, which means less plumbing and less heat loss. I’d like to see a few GW of each for a comparison.

    And if you could make them smaller, modular, and close to end users (and address safety of course), you could capture waste heat for heating, cooling, and hot water.

    I love CSP. Hey, call it solar baseload!

  2. russ says:

    Baseload? I was under the impression that baseload would be available 24 hours. The thermal storage they are talking about for CSP to date is 3 to 6 hours – that includes the new (proposed) plants in Arizona.

    They are also using cooling towers and will have a water requirement in the range of 2.5 to 3 liters per kW – a hell of a lot of water in a desert that already has water shortages.

    I guess they talked the regulators into allowing them to avoid the additional capital cost of air cooling systems. Wonder if they just caught stupid regulators or if they made ‘happy’ regulators?

    [JR: This looks to be mostly a relatively small demonstration plant. I expect the vast majority of CSP plants will be air cooled. Finally, it is a waste of money to provide power between, say, 2 am and 6 am. These plants are near-baseload or load-following, which is better than baseload.]

  3. David B. Benson says:

    Yes, leave out the smoke — just mirrors. :|

  4. Omega Centauri says:

    I can go along with JR. Until we have much much greater penetration of solar it makes sense to go after peak power (which is much more expensive per Joule than baseline power). And peak load is driven primarily by airconditioning, which is a few hours behind the sun. So a few hours of storage allow a pretty good match at a relatively small cost. This doesn’t mean greater thermal storage couldn’t be added to later plants, just that at this point in time it is an unneccesary luxury.

    “We have such precise control over the field that we can do anything with the mirrors we want,”
    That sounds pretty scary. If I’m flying in a plane overhead, could they shoot me down by focusing the sun on me?

  5. Mark W Lausten says:

    The water use of CSP is comparable to coal power plants in the same climate of the Southwest (650 vs. 850 gal/MWh). Does the specific location of the CSP plants (say in Riverside or Mojave or Imperial valley) make a difference compared to fossil plants which can be more flexibly located, yet will still be in the same water constrained region of the Southwestern US?