The Future of Sustainable Solar Energy: Solar Thermal

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Sustainable solar thermal energy, or Concentrated Solar Power (CSP), is the concept of taking light from the sun, focusing or concentrating the light, and using the heat energy given off to generate a useable source of energy.  Although there are many advancements in the works for this technology, like Parabolic Trough Thermal Energy Storage, today we’re going to look at the use of the old to create the new.In 1891, the first commercial solar solution appeared, the Climate Solar-Water Heater.  Its inventor, Clarence Kemp, patented a way to combine the practice of exposing metal tanks to the sun with the scientific principle of the hotbox.Even earlier, in 1816, another man went on a mission: to create a suitable replacement for the steam engine that didn’t run the risk of explosion.  Reverend Robert Stirling applied for a patent on an engine that operated by alternatively heating and cooling air.  This invention took on his name, becoming known as the Sterling Engine.This brings us to today, where these two all but forgotten technologies are given a new life as core components of new, sustainable, solar thermal technology.SES, or Sterling Energy Systems, developed an application combining the two technologies into the Suncatcher.  Light from the sun is collected with a 38′ parabolic array’ 82 curved glass reflectors are concentrated into a very small area, which reaches several thousand degrees.  That heat is delivered to the heater head of a high efficiency, 4 cylinder reciprocating Stirling cycle engine, which can generate up to 25kW of electricity.There are currently plans to build two massive solar thermal power plants; one rated at 900 MW, the other at 850MW.  With a combined output of 1750MW, these plants will provide sustainable power to a large portion of the southwest, including parts of California, Nevada, Utah, Arizona, New Mexico, and Texas.

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