Concentrated solar power—aka solar thermal, aka the "other solar"—will be a core element of the transition from dirty coal to clean energy. The advantage of coal plants is that they produce a steady, predictable amount of electricity for a relatively cheap cost. Concentrated solar has the potential to do that. A while back, I devoted a post to the basics of the technology. In that piece, I highlighted a CSP plant near Seville, Spain, that, at the time, was the world's largest:
Today's CSP projects aim to generate power on an industrial scale, creating a baseload electricity supply that could potentially replace large, centralized fossil fuel-burning plants. Just this week, the world's largest (but not for long) CSP operation plugged in-the PS20 plant in Seville, Spain trains 1,255 mirrors on a 531-foot tall water-filled tower. The intense heat boils the water, which creates steam. The steam spins a turbine, and-voila!-electricity is generated. Under optimum conditions, the plant can churn out 20 megawatts of juice, enough to power 10,000 homes.
The Guardian just posted a great video about that plant's predecessor, the PS10, which was the world's first commercial CSP project. It's a smart look at the future of large-scale carbon-free energy production, and digs into some of the economic challenges as well.