The Corpus Callosum


The photo shows the first commercial implementation of a new kind of
solar-powered electrical generation
station (source: IEEE

The problem, of sorts, is that it is not in the USA.  It is in

The system uses parabolic reflectors to heat a kind of oil.
 The oil is circulated through a system that runs steam
turbines to generate electricity.  But, is uses only part of
the heat for that purpose.  Some of the heat is stored in huge
tanks of molten salt.  

A short video that shows the Andasol 1 station, and the manufacturing
of the components, is here.

After dark, the heat from the tanks is used to keep the turbines
running.  Thus, the station produces electricity even when the
sun is not shining.  

This gets past one of the biggest problems with solar power.
 It also reduces the final cost:

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.

Installations in the USA have focused on lower costs for the initial
installation.  The storage system adds to the initial cost,
obviously, but reduces the total cost per megawatt over the life of the

The cost-effectiveness is increased even more, in areas that charge
higher prices for power delivered at peak times (time-of-day pricing).

Soon, they will build a system that uses the molten salt in both parts
of the system.  That is, instead of using the solar arrays to
heat oil, then using the hot oil to heat the salt, it heats the molten
salt directly in the solar array.

The problem with the picture is that we produced the technology here is
the USA [at Sandia
)], but Spain is getting the benefit.  I have
nothing against Spain: more power to them, I say.  But it is
very strange that we all would be ranting about dependence on “foreign”
oil, while ignoring the solutions that we ourselves have developed.

In other news, the US military is getting fed up
with the high price of oil.  Every $10 increase in the price
of a barrel of oil leads to a $600 million/year increase in the
Pentagon’s energy cost.

To combat this threat, they have built a geothermal power station at
the Coso
Geothermal Field
at their China Lake
U.S. Naval Air Weapons Station.  It’s a great idea.

In fact, the USA is the world’s leading producer of geothermal power.
 But what countries get the greatest percentage of their power
from geothermal sources?  Iceland
and the
.  Curiously, Alaska is the State with
the greatest geothermal resources, yet they are just starting
to make use of this resource.


  1. #1 Larry Riendeau
    October 6, 2008

    I like your article, but it’s a little misleading. We have solar plants similar to this in California. The Kramer Junction Solar Power Plants ( use this tech. Although, I admit I don’t think it uses the storage solution – simple and ingenious! Also, the geothermal plant at China Lake is really not so new (, it’s been around for a while.

    The gist of your article is right on target. It is embarrassing that we are not investing more in these technologies. Then again, since I live near both of these facilities, I can tell you that the government and environmental regulations in this country, while good intentioned, have a strangle-hold on all new development. For example, for every acre displaced by the Kramer Junction facility, they had to buy 100 acres elsewhere just in case there happens to be any endangered flora or fauna. Keep in mind, that’s ‘just in case’ – not that they actually found any. Also nearby are the Tehachapi High Wind Farms ( Those are constantly being protested by people with concerns about birds, bats, and other affected ‘things’. Until we can come to grips with out own societal hang-ups, we’re doomed to oil dependency.

  2. #2 Daniel Newby
    October 7, 2008

    “But it is very strange that we all would be ranting about dependence on “foreign” oil, while ignoring the solutions that we ourselves have developed.”

    They are not substitutes. The solar technology in question could not run an airplane, truck, or most trains. Transportation + chemical synthesis is where most petroleum goes. Conversely, virtually no petroleum is used to provide electrical grid power.

    Where we (U.S.) ought to be using this is the desert southwest. I look at a field of fluid heaters and I see a water recycler/desalinator. Water stores almost indefinitely, too.

  3. #3 Aeronautica
    October 13, 2008

    Excellent article.

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