schwit1 sends this report from IEEE Spectrum: Solar power projects intended to turn solar heat into steam to generate electricity have struggled to compete amid tumbling prices for solar energy from solid-state photovoltaic (PV) panels. But the first commercial-scale implementation of an innovative solar thermal design could turn the tide. Engineered from the ground up to store some of its solar energy, the 110-megawatt plant is nearing completion in the Crescent Dunes near Tonopah, Nev. It aims to simultaneously produce the cheapest solar thermal power and to dispatch that power for up to 10 hours after the setting sun has idled photovoltaics. ... [The system] heats a molten mixture of nitrate salts that can be stored in insulated tanks and withdrawn on demand to run the plant’s steam generators and turbine when electricity is most valuable. ... Eliminating the heat exchange between oil and salts trims energy storage losses from about 7 percent to just 2 percent. The tower also heats its molten salt to 566 degrees C, whereas oil-based plants top out at 400 degrees C.
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