This is the Gemasolar Thermosolar Plant in Andalucía, Spain, which is a type of Concentrated Solar Power (CSP) plant. It works by reflecting sunlight off of heliostats (sun-tracking mirrors, basically) onto a tower where salts are heated. These heated salts are then used to create steam, which in turn runs a turbine that generates electricity. It is also capable of producing electricity day and night thanks to a salt storage system that can keep the turbine going for 16 hours. For more, watch this video.
Having never even heard of this type of solar power plant until just the other week, I feel like I just took a leap into a future I didn’t even know existed. My mind = blown. And not only is this a really ingenious way of harnessing solar power, the whole thing just looks incredible too. Yay for environmentally-friendly energy without it looking like a complete and uttereyesore.
So why hasn’t this technology come before? There are both political and technical issues behind this. Let’s start with politics. The concept dates back to 2001, when Italian nuclear physicist and Nobel prize winner Carlo Rubbia, ENEA’s President at the time, first started Research & Development on molten salt technology in Italy. Rubbia has been a preminent CSP advocate for a long time, and was forced to leave ENEA in 2005 after strong disagreements with the Italian Government and its lack of convincing R&D policies. He then moved to CIEMAT, the Spanish equivalent of ENEA. Under his guidance, Spain has now become world leader in the CSP industry.
[Rubbia] Dal 1999 è Presidente dell’ENEA. Nel 2005, a seguito di ripetuti contrasti con il consiglio di amministrazione dell’ENEA, critica il governo Berlusconi sull’«umiliazione che la ricerca in Italia sta subendo». L’ENEA viene allora commissariato e Rubbia non viene riconfermato dal Ministro Claudio Scajola.
Morale: se i cervelli non fuggono da soli, li cacciamo a pedate e con disonore. Premio Nobel non sei nessuno, se non hai almeno una casa al Colosseo a tua insaputa (o se non sei stato Ministro dell’Interno -ovvero a capo della polizia- ai tempi del G8 di Genova)