Solar Power Towers and The Future of Solar Energy

As the technology surrounding solar power has developed over the years, one of the biggest issues still plaguing them is their efficiency. As much sunlight as they’re able absorb throughout the day, there are still issues with storing energy and then using that energy after the sun sets. Since this is basically half the day at any given point of the year (and it does vary depending on geographic location), creating more advanced solar panels is crucial to the sustainability of this form of renewable energy.

Why Solar Power Towers Are Influencing The Future of Green Energy

In terms of advancements in the field, some energy companies have put a lot of resources into creating solar power towers (sometimes referred to as central power towers, or heliostat power plants). It’s important to understand more about why these structures aren’t only important to the future of solar farms, but solar energy in general.

What’s Different About Solar Power Towers?

The main premise behind any of these structures is that the create points of highly focused sunlight. Rather than relying on individual solar panels, they use a huge collection of flat, adjustable mirrors (the heliostats) that can redirect incoming sunlight in any particular direction. The array of heliostats is properly aligned to the sun throughout the day, and shift beams of sunlight towards ‘the target’, which is a collector tower.

What’s Done With The Constant Sunlight?

With sometimes hundreds of panels redirecting sunlight towards one specific point, things get very, very hot. The amount of concentrated solar power is used to heat water at a rapid pace, and the steam produced then powers a turbine,which generates electricity. The heat at the target and the surrounding area gets extremely hot, sometimes upwards of 500°C. This isn’t very friendly to any birds that are passing by, and these massive stations aren’t designed to exist near communities or cities.

How Are These Impacting More Consumer Friendly Solar Panels?

The biggest concern that the original tower (completed in 2006) couldn’t specifically address was what to do with any excess sunlight. Methods for storing solar energy weren’t as advanced as they are now, but these towers presented a great opportunity to craft the solution. Now, newer target towers utilize a liquid sodium solution, along with molten salts. The chemical composition of these fluids gives them a higher than average heat capacity, meaning that any excess heat not immediately used on the water is stored for hours at a time.

This same principle can be applied to basic solar panels, and improving the photovoltaic systems that they currently utilize. The better that any of these technologies are at not only collecting energy, but also storing it for later use, the closer the industry moves towards true sustainability. Anytime a solar panel can use energy at night time, this means a location won’t need to pull power from the grid, which can be wasteful in other locations. This is ideal for any homeowners, especially as they try to decrease their monthly electricity bills, but also greatly reduce their carbon footprints.