An Explanation of Solar Energy Receivers
Solar energy receivers are special units used in electricity-generating hybrid solar thermal power plants. The plants have huge towers that run the plant’s engine using a combination of solar energy and fuels. Some of these plants can have power outputs of as much as 10 GW.
Hybrid Solar Thermal Power Plants
Hybrid solar thermal power plants are extremely efficient plants that can operate regardless of the time of day or weather, and produce the required power output. When there is no sun, the plant will use natural gas or clean bio-fuels instead. A hybrid plant will typically consist of the following: a solar tower (a large insulated tower with air), heliostats (devices that concentrate solar energy and follow the sun using tracking sensors and drive motors), as well as a solar energy receiver.
Here is how the plant operates
Solar energy is first concentrated by the heliostat (up to 1000 times), and then absorbed in the solar energy receivers mounted on the tower. The solar receiver's surface starts to emit hot air into the tower (towers have a porous surface for the air to pass through). Hot air is drawn through the tower by a fan, until it reaches the thermal cycle engine. When it does, the engine begins to convert the air into mechanical energy. The mechanical energy is then converted into electric by an electric generator.
Hybrid solar plants equipped with solar receivers can heat the steam up to 600 degrees Celsius due to high optical concentration. The higher the steam temperature, the less of the external fuel (natural gas or bio-fuels) is needed to bring it up to the necessary turbine inlet temperature.
Non-Hybrid Thermal Solar Power Plants
Non-hybrid thermal solar power plants operate using clean solar energy, and the fuel in them is completely replaced by the sunlight. The only problem is that such solar plants work only when it is sunny. That is why hybrid plants that use the combination of the two: solar energy and fuels (natural gas or bio-fuels) have become so popular today.
Testing Hybrid Thermal Solar Power Plants
Solar hybrid plants exist in real, and one was recently installed and tested in Spain. This plant managed to replace around 60% of the required fuel by feeding solar-heated air into a gas turbine.
Improving It Further
We can improve solar hybrid power plants if we replace gas with bio-fuels. Thus, we would achieve carbon-free electricity generation.
Today, solar power is employed in all types of constructions, including regular PV panels (collect the sunlight, and then feed it into the grid or store it in a battery), water heating and pool water heating systems, passive solar air heating systems, and so on. Solar energy opens new horizons for humanity. The environmentally friendly solar powered systems pay for themselves within years and then start to generate free electricity. Using solar energy receivers can increase the conversion of solar energy into electricity in some systems, as well as save on the initial costs of these systems.
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