Solar Thermal Energy - Use of Water

Use of Water

A design which requires water for condensation or cooling may conflict with location of solar thermal plants in desert areas with good solar radiation but limited water resources. The conflict is illustrated by plans of Solar Millennium, a German company, to build a plant in the Amargosa Valley of Nevada which would require 20% of the water available in the area. Some other projected plants by the same and other companies in the Mojave Desert of California may also be affected by difficulty in obtaining adequate and appropriate water rights. California water law currently prohibits use of potable water for cooling.

Other designs require less water. The proposed Ivanpah Solar Power Facility in south-eastern California will conserve scarce desert water by using air-cooling to convert the steam back into water. Compared to conventional wet-cooling, this results in a 90 percent reduction in water usage at the cost of some loss of efficiency. The water is then returned to the boiler in a closed process which is environmentally friendly.

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... Faced with this crisis, the operators decided to use water ... This was risky, as molten metal oxidises in contact with water, stripping oxygen from the water molecules and leaving free hydrogen, which could mix with incoming air and explode ... atop the reactor shielding and ordered the water to be turned on, listening carefully at the inspection holes for any sign of a hydrogen reaction as the pressure was increased ...

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