Tuesday, January 8, 2008

Tower of power too sweet to be sour...

What is this?

A reflective window curtain?

A disco opera house?

A Frank Gehry-designed ski lodge?

A chrome satellite dish?

Eat your heart out Rob Cockerham...

...it's a solar furnace!!!

The above solar furnace was opened, appropriately, at the dawn of the disco era in the Pyrenees of France, and remains the largest solar furnace in the world. Basically, the curved face of the structure is covered with mirrors and acts as a parabolic reflector, concentrating and isolating the reflected light into a centralized location the size of a basketball hoop. The reflection is so powerful that it can reach a temperature of up to 5,432 degrees Fahrenheit.

Why France? This particular location is competing with Southern California, seeing as it's sunny 300 days out of the year. Why build one at all? This particular application is expected to advance much of anything on this planet. However, the structure might prove useful outside of our atmosphere on space missions. It is so powerful that it could produce heat, power and aid in the production metals and other materials for industry.

The concept itself dates back Archimedes when, in 200 BC, a parabolic reflector was said to by built and used as a weapon of war. Some of you might remember Adam and Jamie's mythbusting attempt, replicating the experience. Although Adam and Jamie could not initially find plausibility in the legend, a group of supernerds from MIT recreated --with success-- the boat-destroying build in 2005.

Although the solar furnace concept appears to be orbit-bound, new(er) advancements in solar technology have produced some amazing results. Relying on the same principles, the 'Heliostat' power plant (pictured below) utilizes mobile mirrors to continuously reflect the sun to a central point in the tower. Instead of re-reflecting the light to another point, the structure actually absorbs the heat internally for later use. In most instances that heat is used to boil water, thus powering internal or external steam turbines.

Near Seville, Spain:

'Solar One' in Boulder City, Nevada:

Decommissioned 'Solar Two' in Daggett, California:

Where are solar towers going to take us? Well, the January 2008 issue of Scientific American believes that we're on the verge of "A Solar Grand Slam," able to end the U.S. dependence on foreign oil and carbon emissions by 2050. Granted the whole article doesn't focus solely on solar tower technology, but who said that one individual tech-sector was going to save the world?

Key points from the article:

A massive switch from coal, oil, natural gas and nuclear power plants to solar power plants could supply 69 percent of the U.S.’s electricity and 35 percent of its total energy by 2050.

A vast area of photovoltaic cells would have to be erected in the Southwest. Excess daytime energy would be stored as compressed air in underground caverns to be tapped during nighttime hours.

Large solar concentrator power plants would be built as well.

A new direct-current power transmission backbone would deliver solar electricity
across the country.

$420 billion in subsidies from 2011 to 2050 would be required to fund the infrastructure and make it cost-competitive.

That piece is all well and good, but articles like this don't geek me up half as much as artistic renditions like these (see below). It's a proposed parking structure covered with a solar tower field.


Final note, all investors should keep a sharp eye on Sunpower Corp. Picture Exxon with a free oil tap.

Just watch. California/Nevada/Arizona will (sooner than you think) take over as the new Middle East.