First EU commercial concentrating solar power tower opens in Spain

Posted: 2 April 2007

Europe's first commercial concentrating solar power plant began producing electricity in March near the sunny southern Spanish city of Seville. ENS reports:

The 11 MW plant was inaugurated in the presence of the heads of the regional government of Andalusia and executives of the solar company Abengoa, whose parent company, Solucar, built the power plant.

The power plant in the municipality of Sanlucar la Mayor, 25 kilometres west of Seville, took more than four years to build, from July 1, 2001 to December 31, 2005.

Known as PS10, the project produces electricity with 624 large movable mirrors called heliostats. Each of the mirrors has a surface measuring 120 square metres which concentrates the Sun's rays to the top of a 115-metre-high tower where a solar receiver and a steam turbine are located. The turbine drives a generator, producing electricity.

solar power tower
solar power tower
EU's first commercial concentrating solar power tower near Seville, Spain (Photo courtesy Abengoa)
PS10 is the first of a set of solar electric power generation plants to be constructed in the same area that will total more than 300 MW by 2013. Power generation will be accomplished using a variety of technologies.

The first two power plants to be brought into operation at Sanlucar la Mayor are the PS10, the world's first tower technology solar thermoelectric power plant constructed for commercial operation, and Sevilla PV, the largest low concentration system photovoltaic plant in Europe.

When completed in the year 2013, the Sanlucar la Mayor Solar Platform will produce enough energy to cover the consumption of some 180,000 homes, equivalent to the needs of the city of Seville, using the concentrating solar power plant and other technologies.

EU investment

Partly financed with European Union funds, the entire project requires an investment of 1.2 billion euro. The investment required to build the concentrating solar power plant amounted to €35 million, with a contribution of €5 million from the EU's Fifth Framework Programme for research, awarded for the project's innovative approach.

"These new technologies give Europe a new option to combat climate change and increase energy security while strengthening the competitiveness of the European industrial sector and creating jobs and growth," said Energy Commissioner Andris Piebalgs.

Concentrating solar power plants have few environmental impacts other than land use. They produce no environmental contaminants or greenhouse gases.

When complete, the Sanlucar la Mayor Solar Platform will prevent the emission of more than 600,000 metric tons of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere each year. These emissions would have resulted from burning fossil fuels to supply electricity to the 180,000 homes that will be served by the Solar Platform.

The need for concentrating solar power technology like PS10 arises because solar radiation reaches the Earth's surface with a density that is adequate for heating systems but not for an efficient thermodynamic cycle for electricity production, Piebalgs explains. The potential contribution of concentrating solar power plants to a more sustainable energy system has still to be fully exploited.

The EU has been supporting the concentrating solar power sector for more than 10 years, spending some €25 million to research projects working to develop this technology. Piebalgs says this contribution has had a multiplying effect by leveraging a large amount of additional private investment worth several hundred million euro, in a ratio of about €10 for each euro invested by the European Union research programme.

Solar power map

The European Commission has also published a map of the solar power potential of Europe. The map is produced by the Photovoltaic Geographical Information System of the Joint Research Centre which also includes an interactive service allowing users to calculate the solar power potential of any location in Europe.

The information in the map shows that an identical solar system will generate twice as much energy in sunny areas of Europe, such as Malta and Southern Spain, as in areas such as Scotland or northern Scandinavia.

The interactive information service map allows very specific calculation of the amount of energy that can be generated in any given location in Europe and its neighboring regions. This calculation is based on knowledge of the Sun's energy, geographic distribution, the different terrain across Europe and detailed technological analysis of the available photovoltaic technologies.

The map shows that considerable potential exists in Europe for greater use of solar energy. The EU is seeking to increase the share of renewable energies in its consumption to 20 per cent in 2020. The map can be downloaded here.

Copyright Environment News Service (ENS) 2006. All Rights Reserved.

Also in March, another major solar power plant opened in the southern Alentejo province of Portugal. The plant is a photovoltaic generator with 52,000 PV modules, covers an area of 60 hectares, and also produces 11 MW of electricity. For more details, see the BBC news story.