Conventional solar power systems use mirrors or lenses to concentrate solar thermal energy that converts the sun’s energy into heat, which then drives a steam turbine that is connected to an electric generator. Recently, a new breakthrough in solar power plant technology allows for the creation and use of supercritical steam to generate even more power from the sun. Supercritical steam involves subjecting water to such a high state of pressure that the fluid becomes steam.
Generating supercritical steam is known to improve the efficiency of modern fossil fuel power plants by 3.5% and also produces less air pollution. How it affects the overall efficiency of a conventional solar power system remains to be seen.
Although solar power plants are considered the most environmentally friendly, they are not cost efficient. Maintaining a solar power plant is very expensive, about twice the cost of running a nuclear power plant. Also, concentrated solar power is difficult to store in the long term and they tend to lose power at every stage of the process.
Regardless, this supercritical steam breakthrough should bolster support for concentrated solar power systems, and more than justify continued investment in solar power plant technology given the obvious benefits this technology will have on the environment once perfected.
Images and information sourced from extremetech.com