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Spain To Bring On Stream Europe's Largest Thermosolar Station

Some of the 624 mirrors at a solar energy center in Sanlucar La Mayor, near Seville. Abengoa is a technological company that applies innovative solutions for sustainable development in the infrastructures, environment and energy sectors. Photo courtesy of Abengoa and AFP.
by Emmanuel Angleys
Seville (AFP) Oct 22, 2006
Spain, championing the drive towards renewable energy, is set to launch production of solar energy from what will be Europe's largest thermo-electric plant. The thermo-electric solar plant at Sanlucar La Mayor, near the southern city of Seville, appears the perfect place to boost the drive to wean Spain off its dependence on oil, as the sun beats down almost incessantly on the southern Andalusia region.

"There are 320 days of sunshine a year in Andalusia," says Professor Valeriano Ruiz, director of the thermodynamic laboratory at the University of Seville, who was aghast to find that heavy rain coincided with a visit last week by European journalists to the Sanlucar complex.

The technology of helio-thermodynamism is more productive than electricity production via the photovoltaic -- or solar panels -- method, according to Ruiz. He says it is the only means of providing power on the scale of fossil energy reactors as Spain goes big on the idea of concentrated solar power (CSP).

The first section of the site is ready for inauguration, and once up and running in the coming months it will have an 11 megawatt (MW) capacity, slightly more than its 10-megawatts counterpart at Pocking in Germany, which to date is Europe's largest solar energy producer.

Sanlucar La Mayor will ultimately overtake that as Spain plans to build eight reactors with an overall capacity of 302 MW by 2010. When all eight are on stream that would be sufficient electricity to supply 180,000 homes, the equivalent of a city such as Seville itself.

The Abengoa group has invested 35 million euros (45 million dollars) in the first reactor and expects to shell out a total of 1.3 billion euros by the time the site is complete.

The first reactor covers some 70 hectares and comprises 624 moveable mirrors.

Each has a 121-square-metre surface and is stuck on the end of a metal pillar, enabling the sun's rays to be concentrated on a focal point situated at the top of a tower.

There, a boiler is installed to allow a temperature to be reached of between 600 and 1,000 degrees Celsius in order to heat up fluid and produce the vapour that activates a system of turbines and alternators, thereby generating electricity.

There is no need for silicon, a chemical element indispensable for the fabrication of more expensive photovoltaic cells, and there are no CO2 emissions either, those being the key cause of the so-called Greenhouse Effect of global warming.

What is required is space, at least two hectares per MW of production, and sun -- an annual 1,900 KWh per square metre.

But the sun, unlike oil, is an inexhaustible source of energy -- and it is free, Ruiz notes.

The professor says that the technology has also become financially viable since Spain's Socialists took power in 2004 and passed a law imposing a kilowatt-hour purchase price for solar energy that is more costly than that of other methods.

"It's the real reason why things are starting to take off," he says, adding the ecological side of the argument justifies the state's interest in promoting the technology.

According to Ruiz, the technology is easily exportable to any country where there is an abundance of sunshine, meaning that African states such as Algeria, Egypt and Morocco could see it prosper.

Spain's photovoltaic association ASIF recently forecast growth of up to 1,100 MW by 2010, exceeding government forecasts more than twice over.

Spain, which depends heavily on imported supplies of oil and gas, last year unveiled a Renewable Energy Plan.

The plan offers tax incentives for firms that employ clean emission technologies. It foresees 97 percent of a total 23.6-billion euro investment coming from the private sector, notably such firms as Iberdrola and Gamesa, according to the Institute for the Diversification and Saving of Energy (IDAE).

Spain, where the energy market was deregulated in 1998, is also pushing wind power and lies second only to Germany and just ahead of the United States in terms of installed wind power capacity at 8,155 MW in December 2004.

Source: Agence France-Presse

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Making US Nuclear Materials More Secure
Washington (UPI) Oct 20, 2006
The U.S. Department of Energy is preparing to alter its method of securing nuclear materials because of environmental considerations. The Federal Register reported Oct. 19 that the Department of Energy National Nuclear Security Administration is issuing a "Supplement to the Stockpile Stewardship and Management Programmatic Environmental Impact Statement -- Complex 2030" to analyze the environmental impacts of transforming the U.S. nuclear weapons arsenal over the next 24 years.

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