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Gemasolar Concentrated Solar Power achieves key milestone - 24 hours of uninterrupted supply


July 7, 2011

Gemasolar CSP plant

Gemasolar CSP plant

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The Gemasolar Concentrated Solar Power (CSP) plant near Seville, Spain, has achieved a full 24 hours of solar power production one month after starting commercial operation. The 19.9 MW plant uses a huge array of mirrors to heat a molten salt storage system in the central tower which is then used to run steam turbines, resulting in the ability to continue energy production after the sun goes down.

Built by Torresol Energy - a joint venture between energy company Masdar of Abu Dhabi and Spanish engineering firm SENER, - the Gemasolar plant opened last May in Fuentes de Andalucia. Its central tower is surrounded by 2,650 heliostats (mirrors) that stretch approximately 185 hectares. The mirrors concentrate the solar radiation at a ratio of 1000:1 and at the central receiver in the 140 m (450 ft) tower temperatures can exceed 500-degrees Centigrade (932°F). The molten salts (which are able to retain 95% of the radiation from the sun's spectrum) are then stored in specially designed tanks, where high temperatures can be maintained at a level to facilitate the generation of electricity through steam turbines even after dusk.

"Gemasolar achieved optimal performance in its systems in the last week of June. The high performance of the installations coincided with several days of excellent solar radiation which made it possible for the hot-salt storage tank to reach full capacity," said Diego Ramírez, Director of Production at Torresol Energy. "We're hoping that in the next few days our supply to the network will reach an average of 20 hours a day."

The has already started supplying electricity to 25,000 local homes and more of the plants are planned.

"Masdar is currently working on other solar power projects within the UAE including Shams One and Noor One projects, each with 100MW capacity," said Frank Wouters, Director of Masdar Power.

Source: Torresol.

About the Author
Bridget Borgobello Bridget is an experienced freelance writer, presenter and performer with a keen eye for innovative design and a passion for green technology. Australian born, Bridget currently resides in Rome and when not scribbling for Gizmag, she spends her time developing new web series content and independent cinema. All articles by Bridget Borgobello

Here\'s the catch: At 19MW capacity, this plant generates about 1.5 percent of the power of an average nuclear installation... and that\'s assuming the sun shines 365 days a year.

Not 50 percent as much...1.5% - even using the terrific molten salt storage system.

200 hectares is about a square mile footprint - for a 19MW plant. So if you can afford to cover 50 square miles with these plants, you can do as well as the avg nuke at 1200-1300MW.

For California\'s 52,000 MW needs, solar power would consume 2,736 square miles of footprint with this technology; plus the materials and labor cost. The entire city of Los Angeles is about 500 square miles.

Todd Dunning

So Todd...what about cost....and include ALL costs of solar versus nuclear. For one thing, getting permits for a nuclear plant, at least in the U.S. is next to impossible.

Three mile Island cleanup took 14 years at a cost of $1 Billion. I could build several of these plants which will never generate that kind of waste. Yes nuclear can produce more energy. So what. It cannot do it without risk to the environment.

I also think these are in their infancy. Building them will spur the competition to make them more efficient as time goes on.

I\'m not anti-nuke. Actually I agree with nuclear power, but to never invest in solar is dumb. We have 25,000 sq miles of the Mojave desert doing nothing. Might as well build a few to take the load off.


One thing everyone leaves out of the solar picture is cost of maintenance. Solar cells and mirrors need to be kept clean for optimum performance. What do you use to clean the surfaces? Even if you use distilled water, the runoff has pollutants that need to be captured and disposed of. The major problem is the water supply. The best solar power locations have a deficit of water, so it has to be brought in from somewhere, which means either big pipelines or lots of tanker trucks, and transporting cost isn\'t cheap.

The devil is always in the details.

Pat Kelley

This is the beginning of something beautiful. People can always improve upon the design of something that works- we don\'t still drive Model T style cars anymore. The argument has been that the sun doesn\'t always shine...now it doesn\'t have to!

Carlos Grados

Solar suffers from low power density, but i would like to see something like that built on the roofs of a city.

If we could take the green fascists out of the equation, nuclear power would be safer, and a lot cheaper.


So Todd, what do you think the footprint of a nuclear power station is-per MW? Now I\'m not just talking about the power station itself-to be fair you have to include the land used to mine the uranium-& the ponds to store the run-off-& the land needed to store the nuclear waste. I think you\'ll find that, when you make a fair comparison, the two match up very nicely....with nuclear being much more expensive. Also, this is just a starting point, as the efficiency improves, the MW per hectare will also improve. With nuclear power the maximum land-use efficiency has effectively been reached!


This plant is only part of the solution. Another part is getting rid of our aging buildings and appliances that are highly inefficient when compared to our current technologies and buildings. I live in an apartment that was built in the 70s, its in a pretty bad part of town and I use way more electricity than I should. The apartments need to be refurbed but I doubt it will ever happen due to the horrible management company in charge of them. My AC runs 24/7 in the summer (I am in texas... ). When the tempts get above 90 degrees the apartment actually gets warmer and somewhat uncomfortable even with the AC running. New power sources like this station are only part of the solution, old buildings with inefficient insulation/building techniques and appliances are the other part.

Mack McDowell

Absolutely not the only solution, but its part of it. Wasn\'t all that long ago that solar power night was the butt of a few jokes!

Adam Bradley

So to put it into context-a Coal-fired power station requires around 20 acres per MW of capacity, nuclear power requires around 10 acres per MW, & this facility requires 24 acres wer MW of capacity-so they are roughly comparable (though whether nuclear & coal includes the land use for fuel & waste disposal I\'m not sure). However, look at the picture-the mirrors are not so closely packed that you\'d necessarily have to give the land exclusively to power generation. Like Wind Turbines, you could have other things going on underneath & between the heliostats. As Voice has rightly pointed out, though, these power stations can easily be placed in areas that are no good for any other purpose-to further minimize their effective land-use footprint!


BTW, I don\'t like being labelled a Green Fascist just because I don\'t want a source of energy that creates waste that remains a threat over a multi-millenial time scale, which is extremely expensive (even with massive subsidies) & which also rely on a finite resource. I\'m all for keeping the power stations we already have, but we certainly shouldn\'t be building any more!


Aussie_Renewable--- No it hasn't. and you have to include the quarry for the sand to make the mirrors,

Adam Bradley--- Not even this solar plant can power a rainy week.

Why are they using a steam plant, sterling engines are for more efficient.


@ Tod Dunning- Are you looking the gift horse in the mouth... or are you just a troll? @ Slowburn- \"If we could take the green fascists out of the equation, nuclear power would be safer, and a lot cheaper. \" Where is your logic here?? \"Green facists\" do not make nuclear unsafe and expensive. Nuclear technology makes nuclear unsafe and expensive. If anything it would be less safe and therefore ultimately even more expensive if the greens had no say.


I think (uh oh) that our biggest hurdles to energy are the devices that consume it. Air conditioning is a major user of electricity. I lived in Texas most of my life, now pleasantly in San Diego, where I can live comfortably without it, but only near the ocean. Texans cannot really comfortably live without AC. Especially near the Gulf Coast, where it makes sleeping possible without slapping mosquitoes and itching all night long. There are no such mosquito problems for me in San Diego...or any bug problem for that matter....as long I\'m near the ocean.

Our real challenge, to me, is finding ways to create AC without the huge drain on the grid that it requires. There are coolers (as in ice chest) that operate directly from solid state devices, with little current drain compared normal AC. Of course, they will not lower the temperature low enough to even make ice, but will maintain ice in the cooler a lot longer. The point being there are alternatives to conventional cooling. Temperatures below the earth\'s surface, ie. caves, are way cooler. I have long thought ducting air from the surface through subterranean spaces might be abundant enough to cool a building....but perhaps not enough. Dunno. We alreay use geothermal heating to make electricity, which is endless, day or night. Is there a lot more of that possible?

Electronics fifty years ago had no concern about how much electricity was used. Cell phones, in particular, have changed that. We have learned how to reduce the drain to get useful life for the phone, without major battery size.

We need to think more about lessening current drain.


I would have to say with the new LFTER technology in the nuclear industry this solar stuff doesn\'t stand much of a chance, that is unless big things change.

Landon Hillyard

I think this is a good example of old proven and new technology. The Masdar site points out that \"the molten salts, at over 500°C, make it possible to generate hotter steam at higher pressures, which significantly boosts the plant\'s efficiency\". I hope we see more of these.

Totally Solar

Is this one of the Spanish solar plants that was recently caught running diesel generators at night to boost the apparent power output?

Solar thermal and photovoltaic installations require a lot of maintenance, as is NOT being done at this one in Germany. http://notrickszone.com/2011/07/04/weed-covered-solar-park-20-acres-11-million-only-one-and-half-years-old/

That one obviously sucked up a lot of money, but not all of it went into building the hardware. The panels are mounted too low to cut weeds under them. If they were tall enough the weeds wouldn\'t be able to grow up through the panels. Also notice the angle of the panels is fixed so they can\'t tilt in any direction to track the sun for best output all day and all year. There should be an investigation into where the money for a proper design went, or into who was incompetent and approved such an inferior design.

Gregg Eshelman

foghorn--- 1. Building new safer reactors to replace aging reactors would make nuclear power safer. Take new your state where they passed a law that prevented a fully completed nuclear power-plant form coming on line, forcing the utility to extend the life of a less safe, old nuclear power-plant.

The single largest cost in building and operating a nuclear power-plant in the USofA is lawyers to defend against the constant frivolous nuisance lawsuits cost Slowburn

It has been estimated that if every California household replaced one incandescent bulb with a CFL, it would eliminate the need for one new nuclear power plant. If we all learn to be genuine conservatives, (one who conserves), solar plants like this could more readily meet our power demands.


Phil, CFL\'s are the dirtiest new \'green\' tech, chock full of nasty stuff like Xenon - though carefully greenwashed.

Todd Dunning

lol 19mw.. .LOL all that land all those materials and so little energy to show. 4 wind turbines would blow this system out of the water and cost much less and not destroy the environment. The sun is good for direct heating and lighting. The sun is not good for generating electricity.

Michael Mantion

Pat Kelley....are you seriously trying to compare a little dirty water to the storage and transportation of nuclear waste?

As for keeping the mirrors clean, coating get better all the time. There are windows now that have coating that can help significantly reduce the amount of dirt that needs to be cleaned off of them.


Todd Dunning objects to \"nasty stuff like xenon.\" Wow, that\'s funny! Xenon, a chemically and biologically inert, non-toxic gas? In compact fluorescents? Mercury, yes, but xenon??? I think we can all judge just how well versed he is in science based on statements like this.


Wow, is that the best you pro-nuke people can come up with? That you need to mine for sand to make the glass, or quarry stone? A facility like this could be constructed using mostly recycled materials but-even if it wasn\'t-once you have got the materials you need to build this facility, you no longer need to excavate any more material from that location-& it can revert to its original state. A uranium mine, however, is operation for decades &, even when its used up, it is no good for anything else for centuries. The Ranger Uranium Mine in Australia, alone takes up almost 1,000 hectares-& is frequently in danger of contaminating the water of the surrounding National Park-yet that is the future you want for us? No thanks!


Speaking of water, that\'s yet another reason to reject nuclear power-the entire nuclear fuel cycle consumes vast amounts of water-especially mining-& water is the thing which is going to prove the most precious in coming decades. Even with cleaning, a CSP plant like the one above has a tiny water requirement (per MW) when compared to nuclear or coal. Only Gas is comparable!


Come on Gadgeteer, Xenon has got an X in it, so it must be bad!!! ;-)


So to the guy above who compares the output of this to 1.5 percent of nuclear plant and posits that 50 sq I\'m of mirrors would be needed to match such a plant, I would respond, what kind of area will the nuclear plant pollute if it breaks for any unforeseen reason? What kind of area will be required to be set aside forever to contain the waste generated over time? 50 sq km of land unpolluted and able to be re-used - even used WHILE it is also hosting the mirrors. The advantages of the solar solution over nuclear are so complete over time ... Comments like that are a good example of the human condition: we all automatically create ways of seeing events that support our own preconceptions. You feel the whole green approach is a bit suspect, and all your \'observations\' flow from that. I feel equally a green interpretation is the only possible successful view, and effortlessly find points of view to refute your statements.

Chris Clarke

Sterling engines, while they may be more efficient, are more difficult and more expensive to build.

While everyone argues about these all \"green\" plants, and saving the earth, no one really has a handle on how much these plants cost or the cost of the electricity they produce, minus maintenance costs, they net.

No private investors will come anywhere near these things. But governments get these stuck on them, no matter much they cost and/or how little they actually produce.

I notice that the article left the price tag of this contraption out. Why? Too shocking?


robertallanfox, I believe your thinking is sound, but if we keep making more humans it doesn\'t matter how efficient our gadgets get. In other words, the problem is not inefficient air conditioners so much as too many air conditioners of any kind, necessitated by having too many people of any kind.

I mention \"people of any kind\" because a lot of us, being typical humans, think we may have too many Chinese, or too many Mexicans, or too many Muslims, or too many blacks, or... but that is mistaken. The problem is too many people.

Not that I have anything against people, really. In fact, I am one. But we are all sort of one too many people right now, including me.

Which is kind of sad, because aside from that, we humans are doing pretty well. If there were, say, 1 billion of us instead of almost 7 billion, we could very reasonably think to ourselves, \"What a wonderful world.\"


Too expensive? The same can be said of nuclear power too, no private investors go near them without significant government subsidy. Their history of down-time, cost overruns and huge liability has vapourized the \"too cheap to meter\" mantra of it\'s proponents.

However the liquid fluoride thorium reactors may be the best/cleanest bet for nuclear. 99.5% less waste, 2000x less land needed to be excavated for fuel, no high pressure containment to burst etc etc. http://energyfromthorium.com/joomla/index.php?option=com_content&view=article&id=64&Itemid=63

A mix of renewables and LFTR\'s would likely be (imho) the best way to get off dirty fossil fuels and the health risks associated.

Facebook User

I can\'t see any reason why each of these heliostat mirrors couldn\'t be placed ABOVE a vertical wind turbine (VAWT). The flat base of the mirror would even help to guide the wind into the blades as happens with turbines... then we would be getting power from 2 sources. Add to that a geothermal system buried underneath it all and that little plot of land could generate some serious current.

John McMullen

A years worth of nuclear waste fits in the back of a pickup (or \"ute\" as they\'re known in Australia). Sure - it\'s nasty stuff - but there\'s not very much of it.


John. you can\'t put a worthwhile mirror on top of a wind turbine because it would cause the turbine to flutter and the mirror would lose output. You\'d also wear out the bearings on the turbine faster and replacing them is extremely expensive.

We need a concerted effort to place the source of power closer to it\'s point of production. The amount of power lost in the process of simply transporting it hundreds of miles is insane and effectively reduces the overall real efficiency of generating plants by up to half. Integration of generation into the urban environment is essential, and then only in places with the energy density to do so. You can\'t install solar power in seattle unless you\'re looking to lose money.

Nuclear has to play a part in the whole picture, and all current power production must only play a supporting role until fusion is eventually brought online.

Demian Alcazar

This is great! Australia has plenty of wasted desert for this sort of thing! Just scale it as appropriate. Where do I sign up? We need construction jobs ASAP!

Oh and as regards Nuclear : Have any of you spoken to anyone from Fukushima? I have, last week. If you think it's worth the risk then you are insane. Any Australian who thinks they can be conscience free for selling the yellow cake to Japan, forget it. They were quite clear they knew where the uranium came from. If you think you can trust these companies and the government with safety figures you are wrong. They denied any problem to the people of Edo village, 30km from Fukushima, for 1 month and then they evacuated the whole town. And the reactors are still producing too much radiation. There has been no change for 2 years, why? Because it can't be stopped. 10mins at the reactors will cause death. You can't eat the fish around there either. Don't believe me? Ask a local. You still want to gamble and risk endangering people and the environment?

Ava Dub

It's very interesting that the antinuclear commenters don't respond to the several mentions of LFTFR nuclear power plants. To this passionate greenie they are a potent game changer in the whole nuclear debate.

And to the articulate chap who outlined the tragic consequences of the Fukishima debacle, that particular plant was an ancient design that even the nuclear industry was well aware was an accident waiting to happen and should have been decommissioned 20 years ago. Anybody who doesn't know about LFTFR technology should look it up.

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