Solar power tower

A solar power tower, also known as 'central tower' power plant or 'heliostat' power plant, is a type of solar furnace using a tower to receive focused sunlight. It uses an array of flat, movable mirrors (called heliostats) to focus the sun's rays upon a collector tower (the target). Concentrating Solar Power (CSP) systems are seen as one viable solution for renewable, pollution-free energy.[1]

Concentrating solar power towers:
  • Top: Solar towers of the Ivanpah facility, the world's largest solar thermal power station in the Mojave Desert, southeastern California
  • Middle: PS10, the world's first commercial solar power tower in Andalusia, Spain (left) and Ashalim Power Station in Negev, Israel (right)
  • Bottom: The THEMIS solar power tower in the Eastern Pyrenees, France (left) and the German experimental Jülich tower (right)

Early designs used these focused rays to heat water, and used the resulting steam to power a turbine. Newer designs using liquid sodium have been demonstrated, and systems using molten salts (40% potassium nitrate, 60% sodium nitrate) as the working fluids are now in operation. These working fluids have high heat capacity, which can be used to store the energy before using it to boil water to drive turbines. These designs also allow power to be generated when the sun is not shining.


In 2021, the US National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL) estimated cost of electricity from concentrated solar with 10 hours of storage at $0.076/kWh in 2021, $0.056/kWh in 2030, and $0.052/kWh in 2050.[2] In 2007, companies such as ESolar (then backed by were developing cheap, low maintenance, mass producible heliostat components that were to reduce costs in the near future.[3] ESolar's design used large numbers of small mirrors (1.14 m2), to reduce costs for installing mounting systems such as concrete, steel, drilling, and cranes. In October 2017, an article in GreenTech Media suggested that eSolar ceased business in late 2016.[4]

Improvements in working fluid systems, such as moving from current two tank (hot/cold) designs to single tank thermocline systems with quartzite thermal fillers and oxygen blankets will improve material efficiency and reduce costs further.


Ashalim Power Station, Israel, on its completion the tallest solar tower in the world.
The decommissioned Solar Two in California
  • Some concentrating solar power towers are air-cooled instead of water-cooled, to avoid using limited desert water[5]
  • Flat glass is used instead of the more expensive curved glass[5]
  • Thermal storage to store the heat in molten salt containers to continue producing electricity while the sun is not shining
  • Steam is heated to 500 °C to drive turbines that are coupled to generators which produce electricity
  • Control systems to supervise and control all the plant activity including the heliostat array positions, alarms, other data acquisition and communication.

Generally, installations use from 150 hectares (1,500,000 m2) to 320 hectares (3,200,000 m2).

Environmental concerns

There is evidence that such large area solar concentrating installations can melt birds that fly over them. Near the center of the array temperatures can reach 550 °C which, with the solar flux itself, is enough to incinerate birds while further away feathers are scorched leading to the eventual death of the bird. Workers at the Ivanpah solar power plant call these birds “streamers,” as they ignite in midair and plummet to the ground trailing smoke. During testing of the initial standby position for the heliostats, 115 birds were killed as they entered the concentrated solar flux. During the first 6 months of operations, a total of 321 birds were killed. After altering the standby procedure to focus no more than four heliostats on any one point, there have been no further bird fatalities.[6]

The Ivanpah Solar Power Facility is classified as a greenhouse gas emitter by the State of California because it has to burn fossil fuel for several hours each morning so that it can quickly reach its operating temperature.[7]

Commercial applications

Several companies have been involved in planning, designing, and building utility size power plants. There are numerous examples of case studies of applying innovative solutions to solar power. Beam-down (a variation of central receiver plants with Cassegrainian optics[8]) tower application is also feasible with heliostats to heat the working fluid.[9]

Novel applications

Pit Power Tower concept in Bingham Canyon mine

The Pit Power Tower[10][11] combines a solar power tower and an aero-electric power tower[12] in a decommissioned open pit mine. Traditional solar power towers are constrained in size by the height of the tower and closer heliostats blocking the line of sight of outer heliostats to the receiver. The use of the pit mine's "stadium seating" helps overcome the blocking constraint.

As solar power towers commonly use steam to drive the turbines, and water tends to be scarce in regions with high solar energy, another advantage of open pits is that they tend to collect water, having been dug below the water table. The Pit Power Tower uses low heat steam to drive the pneumatic tubes in a co-generation system. A third benefit of re-purposing a pit mine for this kind of project is the possibility of reusing mine infrastructure such as roads, buildings and electricity.

Solar power towers

List of solar power towers

NameDeveloper/OwnerCompletedCountryTownHeight mHeight ftCollectorsInstalled maximum
Yearly total energy
Noor Energy 1 ACWA Power 2022 United Arab Emirates Saih Al-Dahal, Dubai 262.44 m 861 ft
Ashalim Power Station Megalim Solar Power 2019 Israel Negev Desert 260 m 853 ft 50,600 121 MW 320
Ouarzazate Solar Power Station Moroccan Agency for Sustainable Energy 2019 Morocco Ouarzazate 250 m 820 ft 7,400 150 MW 500
Cerro Dominador Solar Thermal Plant[13] Acciona (51%) and Abengoa (49%) 2021 Chile Calama 243 m 820 ft 10,600 110 MW
Redstone Solar Thermal Power ACWA Power 2023 South Africa Postmasburg, Northern Cape Province 100 MW[14]
Shouhang Dunhuang 100 MW Phase II[15] Beijing Shouhang IHW 2018 China Dunhuang 220 m 722 ft 12,000 100 MW 390[16]
Qinghai Gonghe CSP[17] 2019 China Gonghe 210 m 689 ft 50 MW 156.9
Khi Solar One Abengoa 2016 South Africa Upington 205 m 673 ft 4,120 50 MW 180
Crescent Dunes Solar Energy Project SolarReserve 2016 United States Tonopah 200 m 656 ft 10,347 110 MW 500
Supcon Solar Delingha[18] Supcon Solar 2016 China Delingha 200 m 656 ft 50 MW 146
Haixi 50 MW CSP Project[19] Luneng Qinghai Guangheng New Energy 2019 China Haixi Zhou 188 m 617 ft 4,400 50 MW
Hami 50 MW CSP Project[20][21] Supcon Solar 2019 China Hami 180 m 590 ft 50 MW
PS20 solar power plant Abengoa Solar 2009 Spain Sanlúcar la Mayor 165 m 541 ft 1,255 20 MW 48
Gemasolar Thermosolar Plant Torresol Energy 2011 Spain Sevilla 140 m 460 ft 2,650 19.9 MW 80
Ivanpah Solar Power Facility (3 towers) BrightSource Energy 2014 United States Mojave Desert 139.9 m 459 ft 173,500 392 MW 650
Shouhang Dunhuang 10 MW Phase I[22] 2018 China Dunhuang 138 m 453 ft 1,525[23] 10 MW
Sundrop Farms Aalborg CSP 2016 Australia Port Augusta 127 m 417 ft 23,712[24] 1.5 MW
Dahan Power Plant[25] Institute of Electrical Engineering of Chinese Academy of Sciences 2012 China Dahan 118 m 387 ft 100 1 MW
PS10 solar power plant Abengoa Solar 2007 Spain Sanlúcar la Mayor 115 m 377 ft 624 11 MW 23.4
The Solar Project U.S. Department of Energy 1981 United States Mojave Desert 100 m 328 ft 1,818 later 1,926 7 MW, later 10 MW na, demolished
Supcon Solar Delingha 10MW[26] (2 towers) Supcon Solar 2013 China Delingha 100 m 328 ft 10 MW
National Solar Thermal Test Facility U.S. Department of Energy 1978 United States Mojave Desert 60 m 200 ft 1 MW (5-6 MWt) na, demonstrator
Jülich Solar Tower German Aerospace Center 2008 Germany Jülich 60 m 200 ft 2000 1.5 MW na, demonstrator
Greenway CSP Mersin Solar Tower Greenway CSP 2013 Turkey Mersin 60 m 200 ft 510 1 MW (5 MWt)
ACME Solar Tower[27] ACME Group 2011 India Bikaner 46 m 150 ft 14,280 2.5 MW
Sierra SunTower (2 towers) eSolar 2010 United States Mojave Desert 46 m 150 ft[28] 24,000 5 MW na, demolished
Jemalong CSP Pilot Plant[29] 2017 Australia Jemalong 5x 27 m 5x 89 ft 3,500 1.1 MW (6 MWt)

See also


  1. "The cost of Concentrated Solar Power fell by 47% between 2010 and 2019 | REVE News of the wind sector in Spain and in the world". Retrieved 2022-04-16.
  2. CSP, 10hrs TES - Class 3 - Moderate (2021). "NREL Electricity Annual Technology Baseline (ATB)". National Renewable Energy Laboratory.{{cite web}}: CS1 maint: url-status (link)
  3. Google's Goal: Renewable Energy Cheaper than Coal November 27, 2007
  4. Deign, Jason (12 October 2017). "Concentrated Solar Power Contender ESolar Goes AWOL". GreenTech Media. Retrieved 13 June 2019.
  5. "FAQs". Retrieved 2019-09-28.
  6. Kraemer, Susan (16 April 2015). "One Weird Trick Prevents Bird Deaths At Solar Towers". Clean Technica. Retrieved 20 February 2017.
  7. Danelski, David (21 October 2015). "It's not easy being green: Ivanpah solar plant near Nevada burns much natural gas, making it a greenhouse gas emitter under state law". Orange County Register. Santa Ana, California. Retrieved 14 September 2016.
  8. Mokhtar, Marwan Basem (2011). "The Beam-Down Solar Thermal Concentrator: Experimental Characterization and Modeling" (PDF). Masdar Institute of Science and Technology: i via Massachusetts Institute of Technology.
  9. "Three solar modules of world's first commercial beam-down tower Concentrated Solar Power project to be connected to grid". Retrieved 18 August 2019.
  10. Pit Power Tower - Alternative Energy News Feb 2009
  11. Pit Power Tower US Patent
  12. Energy tower
  13. "Atacama-1 | Concentrating Solar Power Projects". Archived from the original on 2020-01-31.
  14. "ACWA Power's Redstone CSP Draws Down Debt in 9th Month of Construction". 22 February 2022.
  16. "Shouhang Dunhuang 100 MW Phase II | Concentrating Solar Power Projects". Archived from the original on 2019-06-16.
  17. "Cosin Solar Technology Co., Ltd".
  18. "Cosin Solar Technology Co., Ltd".
  19. "Luneng Haixi 50MW Molten Salt Tower | Concentrating Solar Power Projects". Archived from the original on 2019-06-16.
  20. "CPECC Hami Tower Concentrated Solar Power Project to be completed in Mid 2019".
  21. "Hami 50 MW CSP Project | Concentrating Solar Power Projects". Archived from the original on 2019-06-16.
  22. "Shouhang Dunhuang 10 MW Phase I | Concentrating Solar Power Projects". Archived from the original on 2019-06-16.
  23. "Shouhang and EDF to Test s-CO2 Cycle in Concentrated Solar Power". 29 March 2019.
  24. "Sundrop CSP Project | Concentrating Solar Power Projects | NREL".
  25. "Dahan Power Plant | Concentrating Solar Power Projects". Archived from the original on 2019-06-16.
  26. "Cosin Solar Technology Co., Ltd".
  27. "ACME Solar Tower | Concentrating Solar Power Projects | NREL".
  28. "ESolar Sierra SunTower Project offline - Clarified". 16 June 2010.
  29. "Jemalong CSP Pilot Plant – 1.1MWe". Vast Solar. Retrieved 24 April 2021.
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