Another type of active solar technology is concentrated solar energy or concentrated solar power (CSP). CSP technology uses lenses and mirrors to focus (concentrate) sunlight from a large area into a much smaller area. This intense area of radiation heats a fluid, which in turn generates electricity or fuels another process.
Solar furnaces are an example of concentrated solar power. There are many different types of solar furnaces, including solar power towers, parabolic troughs, and Fresnel reflectors. They use the same general method to capture and convert energy.
Solar Power towers use, heliostats, flat mirrors that turn to follow the sun’s arc through the sky. The mirrors are arranged around a central “collector tower,” and reflect sunlight into a concentrated ray of light that shines on a focal point on the tower.
In previous designs of solar power towers, the concentrated sunlight heated a container of water, which produced steam that powered a turbine. More recently, some solar power towers use liquid sodium, which has a higher heat capacity and retains heat for a longer period of time. This means that the fluid not only reaches temperatures of 773 to 1,273 K (500 to 1,000° C or 932 to 1,832° F), but it can continue to boil water and generate power even when the sun is not shining.
Parabolic troughs and Fresnel reflectors also use CSP, but their mirrors are shaped differently. Parabolic mirrors are curved, with a shape similar to a saddle. Fresnel reflectors use flat, thin strips of mirror to capture sunlight and direct it onto a tube of liquid. Fresnel reflectors have more surface area than parabolic troughs and can concentrate the sun’s energy to about 30 times its normal intensity.
Concentrated solar power plants were first developed in the 1980s. The largest facility in the world is a series of plants in California’s Mojave Desert. This Solar Energy Generating System (SEGS) generates more than 650 gigawatt-hours of electricity every year. Other large and effective plants have been developed in Spain and India.
Concentrated solar power can also be used on a smaller scale. It can generate heat for solar cookers, for instance. People in villages all over the world use solar cookers to boil water for sanitation and to cook food.
Solar cookers provide many advantages over wood-burning stoves: They are not a fire hazard, do not produce smoke, do not require fuel, and reduce habitat loss in forests where trees would be harvested for fuel. Solar cookers also allow villagers to pursue time for education, business, health, or family during time that was previously used for gathering firewood. Solar cookers are used in areas as diverse as Chad, Israel, India, an