A solar tower, even at night

Generating solar energy when it’s pitch black outside is no utopian vision. New types of power plants are being built that use thermodynamic technology. One of the most innovative sites in the world is the Badaling Tower, in the suburbs of Beijing. The R&D team there is made up of around 50 French and Chinese researchers, including engineers from EDF and the Chinese Academy of Sciences. They are working on a prototype that will overcome a thorny issue: the intermittency of solar energy.How can sunlight be captured in the day and turned into energy for later use? The thermodynamic process involves concentrating and amplifying the sun’s rays using mirrors to heat up a heat-transfer fluid. In Badaling, a field of solar collectors (also known as heliostats) focus the sunlight upon a receptor fixed to the tower. The heated fluid is then turned into electricity via a turbine. However, it can remain at a high temperature for several hours, on standby, so electricity can be supplied even at night, or beneath thick cloud. This also means it can adapt better to fluctuations in demand, by tailoring the amount generated during the day to consumer needs.The prototype implemented in Badaling aims to increase the productivity, security, efficiency and availability of solar energy. Winner of the “R&D Prize for French-Chinese Teams” in December 2014, this project is one of the most ambitious signifiers of China’s commitment to renewable energy. In recent months, the most populous country on the planet, which is enjoying sustained economic growth, has demonstrated its ambition to become the new leader in green energy, via an R&D policy and various dynamic international collaborations. The Badaling Tower, which is located close to the Great Wall, is bound to become a symbol of this aim.To go further
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