With waning subsidies and other attractive markets, can Spain maintain its lead in solar tech?
On the outskirts of Seville, Spain, 600 rotating mirrors send shafts of light to a collector atop a soaring 380-foot- (115-meter-) tall tower. Its scalding 480-degree-Fahrenheit (250-degree-Celsius) steam drives a turbine generating a peak capacity of 11 megawatts (MW) of electricity for the national grid. This "power tower" is the first of nine to be built by Spanish engineering giant Abengoa Solar, which all told will produce enough electricity for 153,000 homes by 2013.
From power towers to parabolic trough plants and from photovoltaic farms to roof-mounted solar panels, solar energy is booming in Spain. This month, Europe's first commercial solar-thermal parabolic trough plant—a 15-mile (24-kilometer) curved mirror complex dubbed Andasol that focuses light on collector tubes with synthetic oil bubbling to 750 degrees F (400 degrees C)—revs up in Andalusia. Vast acres of solar farms using photovoltaics made from semiconductors to convert sunlight to electricity now span southern Spain: Celebrated ground-mounted photovoltaic (PV) plants include La Magascona and Jumilla with their array of 120,000 modules on 120 single-axis "follow-the-sun" trackers.
Even carmakers want a piece of the Spanish sun. In July General Motors said it will build the world's biggest rooftop solar power station in Spain, carpeting two million square feet (185,800 square meters) of the roof at its Zaragoza automobile plant with 85,000 flexible solar panels. And the 50-megawatt Andasol plant is also the world's largest facility employing molten salts to store renewable energy: 28,500 tons of molten potassium and sodium nitrate salt in two tanks that bank excess solar heat for more than seven hours....MORE