The most near-term, cost-effective solar solution is undoubtedly solar thermal. While photovoltaics, which convert light directly into electricity, can have a significantly smaller footprint and higher efficiency...solar thermal has generally proven that it can create electricity at a lower cost.
With that in mind, the U.S. Department of Energy has decided to spend $60 M over the next five years developing low-cost concentrating solar thermal technology (like the parabolic trough pictured from Schott Solar.) They plan on making between 10 and 20 awards to industry and universities working on increasing the efficiency and decreasing the costs of solar thermal power.
They will also be funding projects related to "advanced thermal storage." At first this might seem slightly unrelated. In fact, what they're looking for is a way to store the heat captured during the day so that they can continue to generate electricity throughout the night. This is another possible advantage to solar thermal technology. If the heat can be stored in some medium, say molten salt for example, then that medium could, in effect, make the solar plant a giant battery. Photovoltaic plants, on the other hand, would require some other form of backup energy to keep the juice flowing at night.
written by Roger, May 09, 2008
written by Andrew Rule, May 13, 2008
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