Near Granada, Spain, more than 28,000 metric tons of salt is now coursing through pipes at the Andasol 1 power plant. That salt will be used to solve a pressing if obvious problem for solar power: What do you do when the sun is not shining and at night?
Part of a so-called parabolic trough solar-thermal power plant, the salts will soon help the facility light up the night—literally. Because most salts only melt at high temperatures (table salt, for example, melts at around 1472 degrees Fahrenheit, or 800 degrees Celsius) and do not turn to vapor until they get considerably hotter—they can be used to store a lot of the sun’s energy as heat. Simply use the sunlight to heat up the salts and put those molten salts in proximity to water via a heat exchanger. Hot steam can then be made to turn turbines without losing too much of the original absorbed solar energy.
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