In April, the world’s third-largest solar thermal power plant began generating power for Las Vegas residents in the Nevada desert. Acciona Solar Power of Spain owns the Nevada Solar One plant, located in Boulder City.

The 300-acre facility uses a unique form of solar power, differing from conventional photovoltaics. It consists of approximately 184,000 mirrors arranged in long, parabolic arrays that focus the sun’s energy on a receiver—a metal tube filled with oil encased in specially designed glass.

The heated oil is then transferred to a heat exchanger where it makes steam, which then cranks a turbine to produce electricity. If the heat can’t be used right away, it gets transferred to vats of molten salt, which retain the heat for later use.

The Solar One facility has 64 megawatts (MW) of generating capacity. It can produce 2,000 MW, or enough power for about a half-million people.     EC