Thursday, 17 March 2011

Solar thermal power a viable alternative

Thermal Tower power plant
It seems that many are unconvinced at the viability of renewable sources as a source of electricity to power South Africa. Many are still convinced that Nuclear energy provides the answer. 
Solar energy arrives on Earth in two forms - light and heat. Light is converted to electricity using photovoltaic panels. Solar heat or thermal power has been used for many years to provide people's hot water needs. 
There has been some progress towards turning the sun's light into electricity using photo-voltaic cells joined into a series of panels. This type of technology has proven effective to power street lights and traffic lights. At present it is far too inefficient to provide a real alternative to grid electricity. 
Many people around the world have been using solar thermal power to provide hot water for their homes and offices. South Africa has only recently joined this trend. 
The latest trend in producing electricity from the sun uses the sun's thermal energy rather than light. Solar thermal power concentrates the heat from the sun by using mirrors to focus the power onto a single point. 
Solar thermal energy is fast proving itself to be the most cost-effective means of producing electricity, but cannot yet compete with coal in terms of cost. Coal wins the race of negative environmental impact by miles over any other source of energy. However, the cost of solar thermal power generation is falling fast, and will probably soon be cheaper than coal. 
In Solar Thermal Energy - an Industry Report the author states that "major solar thermal industry players such as eSolar, Brightsource, or Abengoa, have already beaten the price of photovoltaic and natural gas, and they have plans to beat the price of coal in the near future."
Currently, a 392 megawatt thermal power plant is under construction in California. Solar thermal power is being used in a number of countries with Australia and Spain taking the lead. 

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