Assessment of Solar Thermal Power Technologies
In the present climate of growing awareness about the dangers of global climate change, the development of new renewable energy technologies is primordial in the efforts to reduce emissions of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases. Rapid increases in the price of oil and worries about the stability and security of the extraction of fossil fuels have lead to renewed interest in the development of local energy sources, thereby reducing dependence on foreign fuel sources. Amid the plethora of option available, one of the more promising solutions is the increased use of solar power. Two main contrasting technologies exist for the conversion of the Sun’s energy into useful work, namely photovoltaic cells and solar thermal systems. The development of photovoltaic power has shown massive growth in recent years despite high costs, due mainly to the modular nature of the cells which allow their installation by private citizens, coupled with a number of government incentives. Development of solar thermal power generation has however been reasonably limited until recently, with the only continually operated commercial plants being the Luz SEGS I-IX plants at Kramer Junction in the United Sates. Solar thermal power generation shows great potential for supplying the base electricity needs of numerous countries in the sun-belt regions, stretching from the tropics to the Mediterranean. This has lead to a recent renewal in the development of such systems, notably with the construction of the PS10 central receiver plant in Spain. The Spanish government plans to bring the total solar generation capacity to a total of 300 MW by 2013. In other countries around the world, interest is growing in solar thermal power, with increased government and private spending fuelling research and innovation. Most solar thermal conversion technologies are still at the experimental stage, and no single technology has yet to impose its dominance. Different countries and research groups hold different solutions dear, but if solar thermal power is to become a fully mature electricity generating technology, the best of these diverse solutions must be combined in order to achieve optimal performance of the power plants.