U.S. grants $737 million to solar 'rocket science' power plant

The U.S Department of of energy has given a US$737 million conditional loan guarantee to SolarReserve, a company that uses rocket science to generate power from the sun 24/7.

Daytime solar energy is stored using molten salts to power turbines at night.

The U.S Department of Energy announced today a US$737 million conditional loan guarantee to a solar power company for the construction of a power plant that will generate electricity 24 hours a day.

SolarReserve is building a 110-megawatt facility in Nevada on 2,250 acres of land leased from the Bureau of Land Management. The DOE says the Crescent Dunes Solar Energy Project will generate 500,000 megawatt hours of clean energy annually - enough electricity to power over 43,000 homes.

The technology is literally rocket science: SolarReserve’s founders -- who hail from United Technology subsidiary, Pratt & Whitney Rocketdyne -- combined their molten salt handling expertise with liquid rocket engine heat transfer technology to build a thermal storage “tower.”

Crescent Dunes Solar Energy Project will feature a hulking 640-foot tall solar power structure to house the molten salt-based collection and storage system. The tower can capture as many as 17,500 heliostats of solar energy, the DOE says.

Solar energy is utilized to heat the molten salts during the daytime, which in turn generate heat that spin turbines at night. SolarReserve is the exclusive license holder for the technology. Download a process diagram here.

Federal permitting approvals for the site were granted in Dec. 2010, and the private equity firm US Renewables Group is a founding partner. Also in December, Scientists at the U.S. Department of Energy’s Idaho National Laboratory unveiled solar cells that are more adept at harvesting infrared radiation to collect power at night.

The DOE’s loan guarantee program was created under the Energy Policy Act of 2005, and received additional funding through the American Reinvestment and Recovery Act. The Crescent Dunes project is expected to create over 600 jobs for Nevada.

"Innovative companies like SolarReserve are helping ensure that Nevada can lead the nation in clean energy production, putting people back to work and pushing America toward energy independence. They deserve all the public and private support we can muster,” said U.S. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid.

The DOE has granted over $30 billion to support 29 clean energy projects to date; $8 billion in loan guarantees went to solar generation projects.

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