Masdar, the holistic and progressive renewable energy company from the UAE’s capital Abu Dhabi, and SENER, a leading engineering and construction firm in Spain have formed a joint venture, Torresol Energy, that just inaugurated their Gemasolar Concentrated Solar Power (CSP) project; the first commercial plant in the world to use molten salt thermal storage in a central tower configuration using a heliostat, which will give it a capacity factor of 75%, which is almost on a par with nuclear plants.
Gemasolar is the first of three projects that the newly formed partnership has financed at $1.4 billion US. Raising this amount for first of its kind technology at commercial scale shows what Masdar and SENER are jointly capable of as leaders in strong, credible solar technology.
The first of the three plants, the 20 MW Gemasolar project in Fuentes Andalucía, Spain, will power 100 percent of 27,500 Spanish households’ electricity needs, all day and most of the night, under a 25-year regulated tariff by the Spanish Government.
Storing the heat produced by the solar reflectors will enable the plant to supply energy to the grid on demand for at least fifteen hours a day, because molten salt can retain 99% of the heat stored in it for up to 24 hours.
Gemasolar will be the first commercial plant in the world to use molten salt both as the transfer fluid and the thermal storage in a central tower configuration using a heliostat field of mirrors to reflect the sun. (Molten salt storage with parabolic trough CSP has been only very recently pioneered, too.)
It will produce a net total of over 110 gigawatt-hours a year operating for a total of 6,450 hours a year at full capacity, the equivalent of a coal plant burning 89,000 tons of lignite. The plant is expected to save more than 30,000 tonnes of CO2 emission a year, helping Spain contribute to Europe’s 2020 climate and energy targets which aim to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 20%.
Two thousand six hundred and fifty two sun-tracking heliostats, that took seven months to build, are arranged in concentric rings around the tower, with the furthest away situated at a distance of about one kilometer. Each has a mirror surface of 120 square meters.
Because salt is the transfer fluid (rather than oil) it can reach operating temperatures of over 500°C, much hotter than plants with parabolic trough technology using oils. These higher temperatures in turn generate hotter, pressurized steam in the turbine, which significantly increases the plant’s efficiency. Its commercial operation is expected to lead the way for other central tower plants with molten salt receiver technology, an efficient system that improves the dispatchability of electric power from renewable sources.
Masdar CEO, Dr Sultan Ahmed Al Jaber, told Business News that the project represents another of its milestones in an endeavor to build bridges with like-minded nations to address climate change. “Abu Dhabi aims to build bridges with like-minded nations to address the world’s greatest challenges, such as energy security, climate change mitigation, and sustainable human development” he said.
“Today is an important milestone in this endeavor. Masdar is working with international partners to develop and deploy the most recent scientific and technological innovations, increasing the role of renewable energy as part of a diversified energy. In this way, we will build on the UAE’s existing international role as an energy exporter by also becoming a global provider of future energy knowledge and expertise.”
Understandably, given this achievement, Gemasolar won the ‘Commercialized Technology Innovation of the Year’ and the Ruban d’Honneur title in the prestigious European Business Awards.