As you all may know, solar energy doesn’t work at night, while sunlight is absent. However, development is underway that contains a new technology that will effectively store solar energy in the form of molten salt.
This molten salt can then, when the sun goes down, produce thermal energy to produce electricity for eight to ten hours. This would mean that one of solar energy’s biggest problems would be solved.
The new facility, known as the SolarReserve Crescent Dunes Solar Energy Plant, is expected to be operational by 2013. Rather than directly converting sunlight to electricity through photovoltaic panels, it will utilize solar thermal. A vast array of mirrors will direct concentrated sunlight to a single point to boil water which will then power a steam turbine. The boiling water will also be used to heat salt which has the capacity to store energy.
Another company, BrightSource, is planning to build three more similar facilities in California, expected to be operational in 2016 and 2017. The SolarReserve plant will produce 110 megawatts at its peak and then store energy for the night. Combined with the three BrightSource plants, they can power tens of thousands of southwestern households through the summer evening, a time when air conditioners are most active.