First concentrated solar power plant in the world of variable geometry

The President of CTAER, Valeriano Ruiz Hernández, yesterday signed an agreement through which Abengoa has been awarded the contract for the “Experimental Variable Geometry Solar Facility for Central Receiver Systems”.

Following an open public tender, Abengoa, a pioneering world leader in the industrial application of thermoelectric solar technologies for central tower receivers, has been chosen for this first experimental test facility that CTAER (the advanced renewable energy technology centre) is constructing for use in research and which will be made available to companies in this sector around the world.

Why is it innovative?

The variable geometry plant is a patent held by the CTAER, which is launching a new generation of central receiver tower technology based on mobile heliostats and a mobile receiver that can track the apparent movement of the sun. This will significantly increase the cosine factor of the field of heliostats, capturing the maximum amount of potential energy at any time of year. The simulation programs applied to these variable geometry systems obtain an overall performance improvement of the plants of around 17% per annum.

The new experimental facility, which will be located in Tabernas (Almería) on land adjoining the Almería Solar Platform, has a budget of €4,700,000, financed by the Regional Ministry of Innovation, Science and Enterprise through IDEA, the innovation and development agency of Andalusia, thanks to an agreement with the Ministry of Science and Innovation. The works are due to be completed within 16 months, starting from the award date.

Milestone in the development of thermoelectric solar technology

Spain’s position as a pioneer in thermoelectric solar energy is essentially due to the research carried out over decades at the test plants in the Tabernas desert (the Almería Solar Platform) and the contribution of its universities, especially those in Andalusia, which have provided engineers and other high level specialists. However, this internationally growing industry needs to continue advancing based on more efficient and profitable technologies.

CTAER, in collaboration with the Almería Solar Platform, is working to continue and build on this research and training work carried out over decades, both in solar energy and other renewable energies that are so important for Andalusia, such as biomass and those related to wind and the sea.

This experimental facility, which is unique in the world, will enable new plant concepts to be tested that could be implemented by the solar-thermal industry in the coming years. This sector is going through an international expansion phase and is being hailed as a potential solution to the energy needs of a large part of the world, using the sun – a clean, abundant and inexhaustible source of energy.

Spain’s leadership in concentrated solar-thermal energy

At the end of 2011, Spain had 26 operational concentrating solar thermal power plants with a total installed capacity of 1,100 MW. Furthermore, some 62% of this capacity includes storage in the form of thermal energy, which means that these plants can supply electricity to the network even at night time. In addition to this, there is also the possibility of creating hybrid structures with biomass or other types of fuel, which multiplies the potential, manageability and predictability of solar-thermal energy.

Spain’s global leadership in solar-thermal energy is not just quantitative, but qualitative as well, thanks to its technological innovation and R&D+i, two important aspects highlighted by the President of CTAER, “Our country has tower plants that are unique in the world, such as the PS10 and PS20 that use saturated steam”. Both form part of the Solúcar Platform in Sanlúcar La Mayor, Seville, the largest solar platform in Europe. According to Valeriano Ruiz, Spain’s dominance of solar-thermal technology gives it a privileged position to operate in a market with multi-billion Dollar prospects in the short, medium and long term, since renewable energy is currently worth $211 billion annually around the world.

According to a study by Deloitte, the concentrated solar thermal energy industry in Spain contributed €723 million, €1.182 billion and €1.650 billion to the country’s GDP in 2008, 2009 and 2010 respectively.