The Crescent Dunes Project by SolarReserve has been operating in Tonopah, Nevada. The plant is the world’s first solar power plant that remains operational 24/7 and ensures the provision of clean and green solar energy to nearly 75,000 homes. The homes in the Silver State are kept lit even when the sun isn’t shining.
Crescent Dunes is the first solar power plant in the world that uses molten salt for power energy storage. This technology is also known as concentrated solar plant.
The concentrated solar plants employ movable mirrors, called heliostats, to reflect the solar energy onto a huge, central tower. The concentrated solar energy heats up the salt to 1050 degrees Fahrenheit. This salt is utilized as a thermal battery as it can store extremely high levels of heat. The salt can also activate the traditional steam turbine mechanism by creating super-heated steam when inducted via the heat exchanger.
The cost of the Crescent Dunes Project lies just below $1 billion. SolarReserve has been contracted to supply power to NV Energy for $135 per megawatt hour for the next 25 years,
“The tower produces 110 megawatts of energy for 12 hours a day according to the company, which works out to roughly 1 million megawatts per year. This, in turn, implies a gross [return on assets] of ~13.5 percent—not bad as investments go.”
The concept of a concentrated solar power plant differs from the idea of the conventional photovoltaic technology. The biggest problem associated with the PV solar panels is that they do not operate when the sun is not out. On the other hand, the Crescent Dunes Project is operational round the clock:
“The plant is noteworthy for what it accomplishes—it is the first truly 24-7 solar plant in the world. For many applications, that is a very big deal. Having to build a second power plant to back up a solar array is not an ideal solution, to say the least. Thermal solar resolves that issue all while letting facilities like SolarReserve’s store 1,100 megawatt-hours of energy.”
Tesla is also testing residential or grid-scale battery systems. The Ivanpah Solar Electric Generating System in the California is the largest concentrated solar plant in America. Dubai plans to reveal the Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum Solar Park that will be the world’s biggest solar plant once it becomes operational in April 2017.
SolarReserve is currently developing two more concentrated solar power stations; one in Postmasburg South Africa, and the other is the Copiapó Solar Energy Project in Chile.