American solar ambitions to cut the cost of solar power

Global Business

American solar ambitions to cut the cost of solar power 2

The sun shines over 300 days a year in Albuquerque, the sunniest spots in America, which is why solar energy is such a big deal here. In New Mexico, there is a firm trying to cut the cost of solar power.

CCTV America’s Hendrik Sybrandy reports.

American solar ambitions to cut the cost of solar power

American solar ambitions to cut the cost of solar power

The sun shines over 300 days a year in Albuquerque, the sunniest spots in America, which is why solar energy is such a big deal here. In New Mexico, there is a firm trying to cut the cost of solar power. CCTV America’s Hendrik Sybrandy reports.

Over 200 large, movable mirrors beam sunlight up to 3,000 times the sun’s irradiance onto this solar tower. The process is called concentrating solar power, or CSP.

A short elevator ride provides a glimpse of the falling particle receiver that stores all that thermal energy, unlike a photovoltaic system which converts sunlight directly to electricity.

“Photovoltaics are great. It produces electricity when the sun is shining. But during the evening hours or when the sun’s not shining, there’s actually a huge peak in demand,” Sandia National Laboratories Research Engineer Cliff Ho said.

“Storing the thermal energy is really the game-changer,” said Josh Christian from Sandia National Laboratories.

Christian said falling particle receivers, which use a curtain of ceramic particles to capture sunlight at temperatures around 700 degrees Celsius, are more efficient than other heat transfer methods and much cheaper than battery storage.

“We can absorb more energy without having to worry about the material degrading or melting or just disappearing on us,” Christian said.

These particles, while key to this renewable energy effort, are also used in the oil and gas industry, believe it or not. This mixture helps prop open fractures for hydraulic fracturing, or fracking.

Energy generated by coal-fired power plants is less expensive than solar power.

“What we’re trying to do is bring the prices down so that everyone can utilize electricity being produced cleanly,” Ho said.

Some CSP systems have been deployed around the world and lots of research is being done. The goal is to produce affordable power that consumers can use at any time of day, but especially after the sun goes down.

“Particle receivers are catching on,” Ho said.

Ho believes this form of sustainable energy has a strong future commercially. Gradually, he believes, more and more utilities and their customers will see the light.