China’s first solar thermal power generator was tested successfully in Beijing in August, and more scientific experiments are underway.
Photovoltaic solar energy is inefficient at least in one way: Photovoltaic systems cannot store energy by themselves and need batteries to reserve the electricity they generate in the daytime for use at night.
Trying to overcome that limitation, scientists are working on a new type of solar-energy generator, one that will generate power around the clock: the solar thermal power generator. China’s first solar thermal power generator was tested successfully in Beijing in August, and more scientific experiments are underway.
"Compared with photovoltaic systems, solar thermal power generators can supply a more stable output and the devices are cleaner – there’s no need for the additional pollution that comes from batteries, nor the excessive consumption of silicon used to produce photovoltaic panels," said Wang Zhifeng, a professor at the institute of electrical engineering under the Chinese Academy of Sciences.
Power is generated in photovoltaic systems when light, in the form of photons, hits photovoltaic solar cells and frees electrons.
Solar thermal power generators use a different mechanism. In them, a highly reliable solar receiver collects heat from sunlight and uses it to make superheated steam. The steam can either be stored in a container for future use or be harnessed to drive a turbine generator.