California Molten Salt Solar Energy project gets approval to operate

by Bradley Wint on December 17th 2010 at 5:07PM

SolarReserve recently got approval to get their Rice Solar Energy Project going. In essence, this solar farm is just like a regular field of heliostats directing light to the central receiving tower, but rather than heating water to power the turbine, it will heat a salt combination to over 1,000 degrees Fahrenheit. The salt can then be used to power the turbines all through the night due to its ability to store heat for a long time.

The salt mixture will actually go into a molten stage than is then stored in a tank below and then be distributed when needed to power the electricity generating turbines. The great thing about this salt is that it retains almost all its heat for a long time, and can keep the turbines functional for a whole eight hours after the sun has set. The salt is a combination of sodium nitrates and potassium elements. The heliostats that reflect light from the sun to the receiving tower, cover a 2 square mile radius around the plant.

A water based solar plant would operate in a similar way, but water has the obvious tendency to cool down very quickly, which means no electricity can be generated once the sun goes down.

The plant still needs approval from the Bureau of Land Management and the Western Area Power Administration though, which means it’s just once step from actually going into operations.

Such plants like these are not a new thing, with operations in other countries like Spain. The project has great potential and may put water-based plants out of commission in favour of the new salt plants, if they prove successful.

Click the diagram above to get more details about the entire process.

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