A Spanish Breakthrough in Harnessing Solar Power
by Richard Covington
Synopsis and resource annotations by Max Grinnell
The quest for effective and large-scale solar power projects has intensified in
the past several years, and recent developments in Spain are pointing the way
forward. This article by Richard Covington appeared in the August 2010 issue of
Magazine, and it documents the transformation of a renewable energy source
once viewed as somewhat marginal.
The article begins by describing the Solúcar solar farm, which is located west
of the city of Seville. At the farm, the engineers and workers are implementing
new and creative technology designed to make the existing technology more
efficient. One of the ways this is being done is through the use of concentrated
solar power (CSP), which deploys huge banks of mirrors to focus radiation. The
resulting heat drives steam turbines, which produce electricity.
All told, these CSP facilities will eventually generate 300 megawatts, enough to
power all of metropolitan Seville. Of course, there are many days from November
to March (usually about 80 or so), when the solar installation shuts down
entirely due to overcast skies or rain. This is a fact of life acknowledged by
Valerio Fernández, Solúcar's operations manager, who remarked, "If we are
seeking to make solar power more efficient, there are better places than
The piece continues by exploring a relatively new innovation in solar power
storage systems at the facility outside of Seville. Here the Solúcar company is
working on their first CSP facility to use parabolic trough technology. This
technology uses mirrors which resemble shallow troughs, and at their focal point
is a transparent tube filled with synthetic oil. Sunlight will be directed to
the tubes, and the heated oil will be used to boil water for turbine-driving
Finally, the article concludes by noting that there are plans to develop similar
solar power facilities in North Carolina, New Mexico, and California. The hope
is that by 2025 such facilities might be able to power a city of six million.
It's an optimistic and inspiring thought, especially for those who have
persevered in this field for decades.
Found below is a list of useful resources that will illuminate and
enhance understanding of the topics found within this article.
The first link
take interested parties to the Built-It-Solar site. Here they will find plans
and tools on how to create renewable energy projects, and there are also
demonstrations of electric motors and related technologies.
Moving on, the second
will take visitors to the National Renewable Energy Laboratory's page
of educational resources about renewable energy.
The third link
to an excellent resource from Teachers' Domain and the NOVA television program.
Here visitors can check out an interactive activity (complete with animations)
that is intended to teach students about how a solar cell works and its various
The fourth link
to another fine resource from NOVA which includes a section on how solar panels
function and a Q&A area about solar energy.
The fifth link
real find for science educators, as it includes 23 lesson plans in alternative
energy created by the New York State Energy Research and Development Authority.
The plans cover the efficiency of energy conversion, environmental pollution,
and the photoelectric effect.
The final link
lead interested parties to an energy tutorial offered by the National Fuel Cell
Research Center at the University of California, Irvine.