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Abu Dhabi Built the World's Largest Solar Power Plant with Oil and Mirrors

Leave it to the United Arab Emirates to show us all how to do high-tech solar the right way.
Brian Merchant
Κείμενο Brian Merchant

One of the world's oiliest countries is now operating one of the most advanced clean energy power plants. The Shams 1, a 100-megawatt concentrated solar power plant, has just started soaking up the Arabian sun outside of Abu Dhabi. That's the biggest of its kind on the planet.

It's a joint venture between the French energy giant Total, the Spanish renewable energy wizards Abnegoa, and Masdar, Abu Dhabi's clean energy company. It will juice some twenty thousand houses, and cut out of the atmosphere 75,000 tons of CO2 per year.

Image: (Masdar/ Shams Power Company)

Concentrated solar power isn't like other solar power. These major, utility-scale projects typically use mirrors—either U-shaped parabolic troughs or flatter heliostats—to concentrate the sun's rays on a fluid instead of absorbing them. The Shams 1 uses some 258,000 mirrors in troughs, which track the Sun from east to west during the day so that the Sun is continuously being focused onto oil-filled pipes, which produce steam. Which turns a turbine. Which makes power.

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