In the deserts of Nevada, under the withering sun, scientists aren’t just beating the heat; they’re using it to their advantage.
As the world continues to evolve, the necessity of reducing fossil fuel reliance grows more and more crucial. We as a society are concerned about this trend, knowing that resources are finite but never quite sure how to affect an impactful change. And, with the climate ever-changing, SolarReserve’s Crescent Dunes Solar Energy project is a font of hope.
The sprawling structure is awe-inspiring, both in scale and technological complexity. A 640-foot tower penetrates the sky from the center of a circle of mirrors the size of highway billboards. It is so large, in fact, that Kevin Smith, the Chief Executive Officer of SolarReserve claims that this is “the first utility-scale facility in the world with this technology.” While solar power has been around for decades, Crescent Dunes implements a system, called a “molten salt power tower,” that makes it uniquely sustainable.
Yes, it’s an odd term, but there’s a very good reason for its existence.
Most solar power plants operate off of photovoltaic technology where sunlight is trapped in panels and immediately used to power electrical devices, which is problematic because the power cannot be stored. Crescent Dunes, however, has an innovative and unconventional way to fix the issue.
At Crescent Dunes, sunlight is absorbed by the panels; but rather than be trapped and routed into the grid for immediate consumption, it is reflected to the immense tower in the middle of the facility. The tower then traps the sunlight, using the energy to heat a liquid salt to a smoldering 1,050 degrees Fahrenheit, which in turn acts as a kind of battery, storing the energy away for future use. This process isn’t just different; it’s more efficient, producing twice the electricity per year as an equivalent sized photovoltaic plant.
This is remarkable because it circumvents the prevailing argument that solar facilities are unable to provide power during challenging weather conditions. During a storm, traditional solar power technology becomes temporarily unavailable, an unappealing prospect when electricity is needed to illuminate homes and provide support for emergency services. With concentrated solar power sources, these concerns are irrelevant. Crescent Dunes’ massive power output, capable of powering 75,000 homes at its peak, is an indication that solar technology has made great strides and may be a viable method of reducing reliance on fossil fuels.
While this does not necessarily mean these facilities are going to be implemented over the country given their size, it does coincide with the ratification of some significant legislature. New York City and Los Angeles have both pledged to receive 50% of all their power from alternative energy in the near future. With the emergence of Crescent Dunes, the country now has the potential to refine the technology for use in more metropolitan areas.
It is encouraging to see that the world is evolving instead of merely revolving. More practical technology may still be necessary, but the efforts of the scientific community ensure a bright future for solar power.