Forget Photovoltaic – This Cutting Edge Solar Technique Could Save The Planet
Solar power has hugely taken off in the last few years – it’s experienced compound annual growth of almost 60% in the States in the last decade, and it’s set to hit 2 million instillations in America in the next two years. But cooler countries like Britain are lagging behind – just 1.5% of the UK’s total electricity comes from solar power, and while this is an increase from 0% less than a decade ago in 2010, it’s nowhere close to what is needed to put Britain’s solar power industry on the map. The industry’s reliance on photovoltaics could be the reason.
Photovoltaic panels are the classic solar panels you see installed everywhere from office blocks to people’s houses – and the problem with this kind of solar power, is that it’s intermittent. In other words, once the sun goes down, the panels stop working and an additional power source is required to keep electricity running. In order to sustain solar power’s success, and introduce real growth in cooler European climates, a way of storing the energy generated by solar panels needs to be devised – and, much to our excitement at Tej Kohli Ventures, a new technology, known as molten-salt storage, may hold the solution.
Molten-salt storage, which its innovators are calling “the world’s most advanced energy-storage technology”, is a method of storing the sun’s power through the medium of molten salt. Thousands of tracking mirrors, called heliostats, are used to reflect concentrated sunlight onto a central point to generate heat, which is then used to generate electricity.
Within this central point (or receiver), molten salt flows through the walls, absorbing the heat from the concentrated sunlight, resulting in it being heated to over 1000 degrees F. After capturing the energy, the salt flows down the tower to a thermal storage tank, where the energy is stored as high-temperature molten salt until electricity is needed. It is then released into the steam generator to power a steam turbine, generating reliable, non-intermittent electricity. The process has the benefit of being identical to how conventional gas, coal and nuclear power plants operate – except, of course, it’s completely sustainable and involves zero burning of fossil fuels.
While this is clearly an exceptional solution to the intermittent energy problem experienced in those sunny communities where the transition to solar is occurring, could it also be the solution for introducing reliable solar power to cooler climates, such as Britain? Sadly, at this stage, the answer appears to be no – the technology requires a huge amount of uninterrupted sunlight. However, it could be a game changer for countries such as India, South Africa and China which get a large amount of sun – and, if the technology could be adapted to be used on sources of sustainable energy currently used in Britain, such as wind, it could revolutionise sustainable energy here too. What this incredible innovation demonstrates is that where there’s a will, there’s a way around any obstacle – and for us at Tej Kohli news of this exciting new adaptive technology couldn’t be more welcome.