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Environmental

Solar Thermal Is Poised To Take Off. Will It?

When the media conceptualizes about solar energy, they usually obsess over photovoltaics.  Yet, solar thermal plants are, in terms of today's technology, often more cost-effective.  Although there is only 500 MW's worldwide of solar thermal in existence, approximately 12 GW of solar thermal is in the planning stages.  In the world of projection fantasies, America's southwest holds the potential for 11 thousand GW of solar thermal energy.  The problem?  In a word, water.  Although solar thermal produces no CO2 [if one ignores the emissions that result from the equipment manufacturing and installation process], both power-towers and trough-based systems (2 of the 3 solar thermal processes that are most popular with developers) require a lot, and I mean a lot, of water for cooling.  What process does not require water?  Sterling-engine designs, which are a throw-back to an engine configuration first invented long ago [think 1816].  See http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sterling_engine.

A nice overview of solar thermal and its potential can be found at http://www.economist.com/science/tq/displaystory.cfm?story_id=13725855.