Tivo for Megawatts. Storing the Sun in Salts.

January 3, 2011

For the first century of the electrified age – one fundamental principle has shaped the way electricity is generated and used. The moment a pulse of electrical energy is created, it will instantly be put to use. Electrical Grids are built with this fundamental physical fact in mind, and the idea of being able to generate power at one moment, and use it sometime later has never been an assumption for engineers, economists, or designers.

Now, that’s changing. The tired repetition of “What do you do when the sun/wind stops shining/blowing?” that anti-science types think is a showstopper has been left behind by reality quite a while ago. We are entering the age of energy storage, when energy will be stored, saved, and moved around in ways unimaginable decades ago.

Think of this disruptive technology as Tivo for Megawatts.

I posted recently on how ordinary consumers can store wind power in their basements and living rooms. The video above describes a new system of solar storage, using the phase changes of salts, which will be constructed soon in the American southwest by the Spanish company, Abengoa.

Abengoa design for storing concentrated solar heat

Scientific American describes the process thusly.

Because most salts only melt at high temperatures (table salt, for example, melts at around 1472 degrees Fahrenheit, or 800 degrees Celsius) and do not turn to vapor until they get considerably hotter—they can be used to store a lot of the sun’s energy as heat. Simply use the sunlight to heat up the salts and put those molten salts in proximity to water via a heat exchanger. Hot steam can then be made to turn turbines without losing too much of the original absorbed solar energy.


One Response to “Tivo for Megawatts. Storing the Sun in Salts.”

  1. indulisb Says:

    Hi! It is worth reading the book (free download) “Sustainable energy- without the hot air” which looks at the different energy options and the practicality of them, when deployed at scale (which we need to do)

    If you have solar cells, then you can’t use the same roof space for a solar hot water system (which actually provides greater energy benefits if given the choice).

    A great book (which I am reading now), by a physicist who isn’t afraid of just working on sensible approximations!

    So far in the book- hybrid cars=silly, electric cars=smart

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