The Sensational Solar Power Towers of Spain

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Solar Towers Spain: Twenty miles west of Seville, Spain stand the two solar power towers of Solucar, the largest European solar energy complex.

They look less like what you’d imagine a solar tower to look like, and more like a sci-fi portal to another world.

Given the ample sunshine in the south of Spain, it’s no wonder that solar plants are popping up. This past July, solar power contributed to over eight percent of Spain’s electricity. Not only that, but Spain has emerged as a pioneer in solar energy, with this glowing obelisk actually being the world’s first commercial concentrating solar power tower.

Unlike photovoltaic systems used on other solar farms, concentrating solar power (or CSP) uses heat instead of light to convert electricity. The upside is that can be stored for later use, but CSP is more expensive to build and maintain.

The towers — PS10 and PS20, respectively — started operating in 2007 and 2009, surrounded by heliostats that move during the day to reflect as much sunlight as it can (624 for PS10 and 1,255 for PS20). Those rays of light hit receivers, which produces steam used to a power turbine, and that drives a generator that produces electricity. Because the reflected sunlight also bounces off dust and water vapor in the air the result shows up in the brilliant rays shown in the image at the top of the page.

As for the United States, the company behind Solucar is looking into Arizona and how it can gain a foothold here. CPS plant Solana Generating Station opened about 70 miles outside of Phoenix last year, so it looks as though they’ve already started. And they need to keep branching out, because after years of subsidized solar energy, the Spanish government began requiring solar power producers to pay a “sun tax” for electricity generated.

How can Spain continue to excel as an innovative player in solar energy? And what does this mean for solar energy in the U.S.?

Photo Credit: Wiki Commons

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