Another large-scale concentrating solar thermal project is underway in the United States thanks to strong financial support from the Federal Government.
The news is the latest example of the United States moving forward with investment in renewable energy.Solar Reserve’s ‘Tonopah’ project in Nevada received a $737 million loan from the U.S. Department of Energy to assist in the project’s imminent construction. The massive 110 MW Tonopah solar tower will produce enough electricity to power approximately 43,000 homes. The project will use molten salts to store ten hours worth of heat, allowing it to produce electricity when the sun is not shining.
Meanwhile, innovators in solar technology are developing novel ways to reduce costs and drive efficiency in concentrated solar thermal plants.
Solar Thermal company eSolar applied Moore’s Law to already high efficiency solar thermal plants and subsequently pre-built a microprocessor into every heliostat mirror. As a result, mirrors will point more precisely leading to higher temperatures, higher efficiency and less light spillage. According to eSolar chairman Bill Gross this innovation in efficiency has left the solar industry “within striking distance of fossil fuels”.
These advances in the United States highlight yet again how Australians are being short changed by current energy policies. Australia has equal to, if not better solar resources than the United States, but lacks a strong policy framework to spark a large-scale rollout of baseload solar.
"Australia has abundant solar resources" says Matthew Wright, "however we don’t yet have a framework that allows Australia to tap them. Encouraging the rollout of baseload solar thermal towers should be among the highest priorities of Federal and State governments when it comes to energy and climate change."