A new solar plant in Arizona will significantly increase that state's alternative energy portfolio. The Solana Generating Station. operated by the Arizona Public Service, is the first solar power plant able to produce electricity at night using heat storage technology.
With a 280 megawatt (MW) capacity, Solana is one of the largest solar installations in the country. It uses solar thermal technology rather than the photovoltaic panels that are normally associated with the term "solar power." What this means is that Solana generates electricity by using the sun's heat to create steam and spin turbines connected to an electrical generator.
"Solana is a monumental step forward in solar energy production," Don Brandt, APS president and chief executive officer, said in a press release. "Solana delivers important value to APS customers by generating power when the sun isn't shining. It also increases our solar energy portfolio by nearly 50 percent."
The Solana plant uses mirrors to concentrate sunlight and heat up a synthetic oil, which is sent to a steam boiler, where it heats up water to create the aforementioned steam. The plant will generate enough electricity to power 70,000 homes and prevent 475,000 tons of carbon dioxide from entering the atmosphere every year.
Although this project is a major step forward for renewable energy, more states need to invest in similar efforts if the country is to make a significant dent in its greenhouse gas emissions. Hopefully the success of the Solana plant will convince residents of Arizona and other states of the viability of solar power.