First of all, Italy is one of the leading innovators in solar power. On July 15, their electricity company Enel has unveiled Archimede, their most innovative power plant using concentrated solar power (CSP) technology, where parabolic mirrors focus the Sun’s light onto capturing surfaces which take the heat to the storage location. For the first time in the world, molten salts have been used as storage for the heat they captured from the Sun.
Archimede has an output capacity of 5 MW and is located in Priolo Gargallo in Sicily. The ones who made this happen were Enel and ENEA the Italian National Agency for New Technologies.
Molten salts heat up to 550 °C and they’re not potentially damaging to the environment like synthetic oils used for that purpose up to now, do. Besides this, oils can only heat up to 390 °C and need special heat exchangers that boil water which acts on a conventional steam turbine. Another advantage of molten salts as energy storage is that by storing more energy the plant can extend its operating hours much more than an oil-operated plant could, working 24 hours a day for several days in the absence of sun or during rainy days. And molten salts are also cheap.
In 2001, when Carlo Rubbia, an Italian nuclear physicist and Nobel prize winner, in the quality of president of the ENEA, started the development on molten salt technology and concentrated solar power. Four years later, he left ENEA because of political disagreements and moved to CIEMAT in Spain, the equivalent of ENEA, making Spain the world leader in CSP. Italy did not quit the project, though, and Archimede is the proof. Spain will also unveil several CSP power plants with molten salt energy storage beneath them.
ANEST, the Italian CSP association dreams of having 3,000 to 5,000 MW of CSP installed in Italy by 2020, thus creating new jobs and perfecting the technology, which could also be used in sunny areas like Northern Africa, the Middle East, Australia and the U.S.
Archimede may have costed €60 million, but it’s a proof of concept of something that will build the future of energy production and storage and an example that breaks the ice for competition in other countries around the world. Which is good for the environment and bad for oil companies like BP.