The Andasol Solar Power Station

The Andasol Solar Power Station is a fantastic piece of modern engineering that can be found just a short distance from Guadix in the autonomous community of Andalusia in Spain. It is a ‘parabolic through solar thermal power plant,’ meaning in simple terms that it collects sunlight via solar panels and uses it to produce electricity via a number of processes. Although the engineering behind the construction of such a plant may be quite complex, the process itself is surprisingly simple.


solar power is beautiful!

image provided by Flickr Creative Commons user chantrybee

How does it work?


The impressive number of solar collectors (mirror panels) uses the energy from the sun to heat tubes filled with oil. Each of the solar thermal collectors are known as a ‘parabolic through,’ which are specially designed reflective panels that act as mirrors, reflecting and focusing the sunlight onto the central tubes that are filled with oil. Once focused, the intense heat of the sun can heat the oil contained within the tube to up to 400 degrees Celsius. The super-heated oil then travels through the system to heat water, which is also contained within the system. The water is brought to a boil and then turns to steam, which drives a turbine to create electricity.


 What happens when the sun goes down?


The plant is equipped with a thermal storage system that uses molten salt to store heat in two separate tanks. Once the oil has been heated by the sunlight, it will pass through a heat exchanger where the salt will absorb and store some of the heat. The heated salt will then sit in one of the storage tanks until a time when clouds block the sun’s rays or when the sun goes down. As soon as there is no light hitting the solar collectors, the heated salt is released from its storage and used to heat the oil in place of the sunlight. This allows the facility to continue producing electricity even when there is no sunlight, with the heated salt allowing for around seven hours of electricity production alone. Without this ingenious heat storage and transfer system, the plant could only sustain about 50% of its overall production, so you can understand how vital this storage system is.


 How much energy does the plant generate?


Covering around 126 acres of land, the plant produces approximately 50 megawatts of electricity throughout the year. Thanks to the arid climate and its location at 3,609 feet above sea level, cloud coverage is minimal. Around 200,000 people currently receive their electricity from Andasol and this will hopefully increase in the near future.


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