It's not often that a solar installation gets the royal treatment, but in the case of Torresol's molten salt solar plant that's exactly what happened yesterday.
King Juan Carlos of Spain and Sheikh Mohamed bin Zayed Al Nahyan, crown prince of Abu Dhabi, along with Masdar CEO Sultan Ahmed Al Jaber, Sener President Jorge Sendagorta, and several other royals from the United Arab Emirates, oversaw opening ceremonies at a 19.9-megawatt solar plant in Fuentes, Andalucía, Spain.
The plant, which uses molten salt thermal storage to generate electricity, is the result of Torresol Energy, a joint venture backed by Spanish engineering firm Sener and the Abu Dhabi's energy company Masdar.
The power plant, called Gemasolar, is the first of three plants planned for Spain via the Torresol partnership, which was first announced in 2008.
Gemasolar consists of a central tower filled with molten salt that is heated to a temperature of 500 degrees Celsius (932 degrees Fahrenheit) by giant heliostats reflecting sunlight at the tower. The molten salt is used to generate high-pressure steam that turns a turbine to make the electricity.
The plant is expected to generate enough electricity to power the equivalent of 27,500 homes in southern Spain annually, according to Torresol.
Several companies including BrightSource Energy, SolarReserve, and eSolar have also been developing thermal solar, because of its potential to offer hours more of continuous electricity production compared to conventional photovoltaic power plants. After the sun has set, a thermal solar plant can continue to draw upon its heated oil or molten salt to create high-pressure steam for powering a turbine generator.
The Department of Energy has also taken an interest. In 2010, it gave out a total of $62 million to 13 companies developing thermal solar technology.
Molten salt solar plants, in particular, have already popped up in Nevada and Sicily. California and Alcazar de San Juan, Spain also have plants in the works.