Solar developers in China are borrowing a concept from Archimedes’ playbook.
Fortunately, there isn’t an invasion fleet of Roman ships to torch with concentrated sunlight, as the legendary story about the Greek mathematician goes. Rather, Beijing Shouhang Resources Saving is using sunbeams focused by thousands of mirrors to create energy, according to a report from China Daily.
The system has been generating power since at least 2019 using a solar/molten salt technique, per the story. It’s part of a growing list of solar innovations involving cars, buildings, and even water being developed around the world. The research is driven by the realization that to slow planet overheating, businesses, governments, and the rest of us need to consider new and cleaner ways to use and make energy.
Mirrors could be a powerful option. The system in China is a version of what the U.S. Department of Energy describes as concentrating solar-thermal power systems. The concept is fairly simple. Huge mirrors focus sunlight to a receiver (Shouhang’s is atop a tower) that uses the energy to heat a substance suited for the task, like molten salt.
The process ultimately turns water to steam, powering a turbine, all per a DOE video clip.
Shouhang’s system can leverage the sun’s heat to generate “24 hours of continuous power at full capacity,” China Daily reported.
The setup, which was built with about $433.1 million of original investment, is part of a project in China to prove the concept’s viability.
Photos of the operation shared by China Daily look a bit alien, as a circle of thousands of glimmering square mirrors focus sunbeams to the top of a tall tower at the center. By looks, it would fit the billing as the Empire’s latest planet-destroying weapon.
But, this setup is built to help save Earth, and the developers have a much less menacing comparison: “a silver sunflower blooming on the Gobi [desert],” per IEEE Spectrum.
China Daily reported that it is designed to make 390 million kilowatt-hours of electricity each year. That equates to a reduction of nearly 386,000 tons of air pollution annually, the same “environmental benefit” that 1,648 acres of forest create, according to China Daily.
IEEE Spectrum reported in 2019 that the systems could be costly, and China had shelved some of the 20 projects officials had planned after a variety of complications and delays. But, it appears the Shouhang system remains a nearly-900-foot beacon for concentrated sunlight tech.
“China’s largest photothermal power plant is spearheading a ‘new type of power system’ in the country,” CGTN reported in August.
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