How one company is helping solar soar
Groundbreaking solar technology could solve a growing need for power, and make greenhouse gas history.
Solar power has a major problem: The sun doesn't always shine. It's the reliability issue facing all renewable energies. But one firm, Israel-based Brenmiller Energy, is trying to solve this problem by building a 15-acre solar plant with a twist: It works both day and night, producing electricity through a unique storage technology that may represent the future of green energy.
In order to understand why and how the technology works, it's important to understand the two contrasting types of solar power. One, called solar photovoltaic, uses solar panels, like those on rooftops. These convert sunlight straight into electricity. They can be big or small, powering your watch or calculator, for example. This is the most common form of solar power.
Solar thermal power is very different. This is the technology Brenmilller uses. Here, energy from the sun heats a fluid. This creates steam, which turns a generator, and that makes the electricity. It all takes place in large, industrial-scale plants, like the one Brenmiller is building.
In order to work at night, Brenmiller's storage material will set aside some of the sun's energy, leaving enough for the plant to keep running. The material then releases stored energy at night. That keeps the plant's generator turning and electricity flowing despite the darkness.
The storage medium's precise details remain a closely guarded secret. Other thermal solar plants in the world, like Spain's Andasol, use molten salt to store energy. But no matter the material, using such proprietary solutions is helping make solar-powered electricity more available.
What's more, at an expected 12 cents per kilowatt hour, the cost will be on par with the average cost of grid electricity.
“By developing this cost-effective storage, which is cheaper than other solutions existing today, we are able to utilize the overall investment better and to bring down the price of power produced,” Doron Brenmiller, executive vice president of Brenmiller Energy, told From The Grapevine.
Brenmiller doesn't foresee his company replacing the old non-renewable energies, but rather working in tandem to mitigate our reliance on them.
“The future, as we see it, will be built with a mix of energies; both renewable and nonrenewable,” said Brenmiller. “Using a solution like ours will help to combine these different energies.”
Brenmiller plans to kick off construction next year with the site in the Negev desert connected to Israel's national grid, and a number of 10- to 20-megawatt pilots abroad are expected to follow.
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