Saturday, February 25, 2006

Desert Ballet!

By the Spring of 2010, each dawn will see a startling robotic ballet performance in the Mojave Desert. Just before sunrise, thousands of mirrored dishes will "wake" in unison, and face to the east. Each will be as wide as a school bus is long; arrayed in perfect lines for miles, they will track the sun all day, feeding the power hungry city of Los Angeles.

This is beyond cool, it is revolutionary! For the first time, solar collectors will generate electricity on a scale only coal, gas, or nuclear plants have managed. Not kilowatts or megawatts, but city-sized gulps of power, hundreds of megawatts. With zero emmissions!
The technology is deceptively simple: Each dish is nearly 1,000 square feet and is designed to collect and concentrate energy from the sun into a focused beam that is 1,350 degrees Fahrenheit (talk about very hot, cool technology)! This heats the gas in the four cyclinders of the "Stirling" engine. As the gas expands, it drives pistons connected to electrical generators.
The "Stirling" engine: On September 27, 1816, Robert Stirling applied for a patent for his "Economiser" at the Chancery in Edinburgh, Scotland. By trade, Robert Stirling was actually a minister in the Church of Scotland and he continued to give services until he was eighty-six years old. But, in his spare time, he built heat engines in his home workshop. Lord Kelvin used one of the working models during some of his university classes.

Today, Stirling engines are used in some very specialized applications, like in submarines or auxiliary power generators, where quiet operation is important. Stirling engines are unique heat engines because their theoretical efficiency is nearly equal to their theoretical maximum efficiency, known as the "Carnot Cycle efficiency".
Note from Technophile: The SES (Stirling Energy Systems) Solar Dish technology is well beyond the research and development stage, with more than 20 years of recorded operating history. The equipment is well characterized with over 25,000 hours of on-sun time. Since 1984, the Company's solar dish equipment has held the world's efficiency record for converting solar energy into grid-quality electricity. Their Mojave Desert facility will be capable of producing more electricity from solar energy than all U.S. solar projects (currently in existence) combined!
:: Source: [Sterling Energy Systems]
:: Image Credit: Randy J. Montoya, Sandia National Laboratories
:: Country: United States
:: Available: 2010
:: Innovation: Reliable and efficient energy from the sun!

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