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Molten Salt Solar Thermal Power Plant on Track for Completion

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Crescent DunesThis month, workers finished placing receiver panels on top of a 540-foot tower that forms the centerpiece of the Crescent Dunes Solar Energy Plant in Tonopah, Nevada.

When completed, the solar energy plant, based on molten salt thermal technology, will be the first of its kind in the world.

Crescent Dunes uses thousands of special mirrors called heliostats to focus solar energy on a central tower, making it similar to a conventional concentrating solar power (CSP) system.

The project is controversial since it was funded with a federally backed construction loan totaling $737 million. This has given President Obama’s critics even more fodder for their attacks.

The facility will be able to provide up to 10 hours of full power storage, enabling it to supply power on an on-demand basis not unlike any fossil fuel or nuclear power plant.

Crescent Dunes will use molten salt, which flows through receiver panels consisting of alloy tubes at the top of the tower. The salt retains solar energy in the form of heat, ranging in temperature from 500 degrees Fahrenheit to more than 1,000 degrees, enabling the salt to double as both an energy transfer and an energy storage mechanism.

Molten salt remains in a liquid state at high temperatures and can be transported to ground level and stored through a fairly cheap system of pipes and tanks. As-needed, the heated salt is used to boil water to operate a steam-driven turbine, the same way a fossil fuel power plant operates.

Crescent Dunes is on track for completion by the end of this year.

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