The world's first hybrid solar/coal power plant has been built near Palisade in Colorado. Xcel Energy and Abengoa Solar are partnering on the demonstration project which uses solar parabolic trough technology to supplement the use of coal. Initially, it's expected to reduce the emissions generated by the Cameo Station's Unit 2 plant by three to five percent, but it's thought that this could increase to up to ten percent.
The system focuses solar energy on mineral oil, which is then passed through a heat exchanger where it's used to preheat the water used by the coal-powered part of the 49MW plant.
Abengoa, no stranger to ground-breaking projects, supplied the solar know-how, with the project involving a 6.4 acre solar field. The end result is intended to be a savings in coal use of 900 tons and a consequential reduction of carbon dioxide emissions by 2,000 tons.
The aim of the 4.5 million US dollar project is to demonstrate the potential for the integration of solar power into large scale coal power plants in order to reduce the amount of coal burnt.
Comprised of eight rows of solar troughs 500 feet long, perhaps the most amazing thing about the project is that it hasn't been done before, as there's nothing new about the technology itself. Solar troughs have been around for decades. But should the demonstration be successful, the implications are not to be sniffed at. A ten percent cut in coal consumption in coal fired power stations in areas with the appropriate weather and solar intensity would be a great boost to efforts to limit carbon dioxide emissions globally.
Whilst some might not see this as a significant step on the road to a cleaner energy industry, with the ability of renewable energy sources to provide the amount of energy required by industry yet to be proven, this represents an important integration of solar power into our base load energy production facilities.
With the knowledge acquired from projects such as this, the hope is that solar power companies will continue to improve their designs whilst simultaneously generating the funds required to do so.