Solana: 10 Facts You Didn't Know About the Concentrated Solar Power Plant Near Gila Bend

Categories: Solar Energy

Image: Ray Stern
A row of Solana's parabolic mirrors.
Solana, the giant concentrated-solar plant near Gila Bend, began commercial operations on Monday that will deliver power to Arizona residents for the next 30 years.

You've certainly seen the rows and rows of mirrors in the last year or so if you've driven the Gila Bend route on the way to San Diego. And you've heard Solana, built by Spain's Abengoa company, is unlike other solar plants because it can generate electricity even when the sun's not overhead.

Much has been written about the $2 billion project. But here are 10 facts about it you probably haven't heard:

10.) First, some basics: The plant works by using mirrors to focus on pipes that contain a liquid. This super-hot liquid gets transferred for direct use in two electricity-producing steam turbines, and also sent to chambers of molten salt, which retain the heat long enough to drive the turbines for six hours after a day's charging.

Keeping things as green as possible, even this molten heat-transfer fluid is non-toxic. It's so harmless, in fact, you could actually eat it.

"It wouldn't taste very good," confesses Jim McDonald, APS spokesman.

You'd have to blow on the stuff awhile to cool it down before trying to take a gulp. The fluid is never allowed to drop below 530 degrees Fahrenheit.

9.) Solana should have been operational before now. Though Abengoa announced it would build the plant back in 2008 and received subsequent approval from the Arizona Corporation Commission, it took longer than expected to find financial backers. Little thing called the Great Recession had something to do with it. A story back then in the Phoenix Business Journal states the plant would be operational by "early 2013." Later stories, including some from earlier this year, talked about a June or August start, but that didn't happen, either. But delays are nothing but bad memories with the plant up and running as of this week.

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In #3) there is an error, I believe:

"In the cold, shorter days of winter, Solana only generates juice for about eight hours a day, approximately two hours less than the winter productivity of photovoltaic plants, APS data shows."

I suspect 8 hours/day by Solana is two hours MORE than the winter productivity of photovoltaic plants, because Solana produces power after the sun goes down by use of the molten salt.  

On another subject, I heard APS is paying  14 cents/kwhr for ALL the power produced from Solana.  This is more than 4 times what they pay for my excess solar (PV on my house), which was cut in half due to the lower price of natural gas as a fuel for generating power.  

ExpertShot topcommenter

Another fact: Abengoa will sell the electricity generated by Solana to Arizona Public Service (Tucson, Arizona, U.S.) under a 30 year power purchase agreement. 

BTW - Why was the APS quote about eating the liquid shoved in the article - is that all you could get out of their spokesperson?  It seemed odd to just be put in the article, since APS had pretty much nothing to do with it.

Greg Gonnerman
Greg Gonnerman

I think the first plans featured a tall tower at the center to hold the molten salt. Perhaps that was phase 2 of this project. Regardless, it's good to see a project like this come to fruition. We need more clean locally sourced power.

ray.stern moderator

@topcat.newtimes Thanks for writing. Please check out the two graphs below, provided to me by APS. I should have included them with my article. 

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