Skip to content. | Skip to navigation

Solar thermal power

Solar thermal powerThe sun can provide us with energy in three main ways. Solar thermal power is one of these.

One of the largest solar thermal power plants currently in operation is in the Mojave desert in California. This 354 megawatt (MW) plant uses parabolic troughs to produce enough power for 100,000 homes and has done since 1991.

How does it work?

Solar thermal power plants use mirrors to focus the sun’s rays to heat a fluid to a very high temperature. This fluid is then moves through pipes, transferring its heat to water, like a radiator when it heats up air in a room. The water, when heated, turns into steam. The steam moves, causing a turbine to rotate, which causes a generator to produce electricity.

Electricity from solar thermal power is generated in a very similar way to the way fossil fuel plants generate electricity. The main difference is that in a fossil fuel plant steam is created by burning fossil fuels, whereas in a solar thermal power plant the steam is produced by focusing sunlight.

There are three main types of solar thermal power systems. These are:

  • Solar dishes
  • Parabolic troughs
  • Solar power towers

Solar thermal power in the UK

There are no large scale solar thermal power plants in the UK.

However, the largest solar power tower, Abengoa Solar has recently been completed in Seville, Spain. This 20 megawatt (MW) power tower generates enough power from solar energy to supply 10,000 homes.

Abengoa Solar consists of a solar field made up from 1255 large mirrors, each with a surface area of 120m². These focus the sun’s rays to the top of the 160m tall tower where it is converted to electricity.

Related links