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Solar plant to store energy in molten salt

The Spanish site, which just received the necessary permit to start construction, will use hot, liquefied salt to store solar energy once the sun is down.

SolarReserve and Preneal have garnered the necessary permit to build a 50-megawatt thermal-solar plant in Spain that will use molten salt to store and release solar energy, the companies said Wednesday.

The project will be built in Alcazar de San Juan, a town about 110 miles south of Madrid. The environmental permit that will allow the construction of a project using molten salt was issued by the local Castilla-La Mancha government.

The Santa Monica, Calif.-based start-up, SolarReserve uses a fairly unique method to offer power from a solar plant even after the sun sets.

While the sun is shining, giant heliostats reflect sunlight into a center pool of hot, liquefied salt that absorbs the heat. The molten salt, which can be kept hot even at night or on cloudy days for up to 24 sunless hours, is used to feed a steam-generated turbine to make electricity. The salt is then redirected out of the generator to be reheated and used again.

SolarReserve's partner on the Spain project, Madrid-based Preneal, is a development and construction company that specializes in wind and solar energy plants.

The Alcazar solar-thermal power project is set to break ground in 2010. It is expected to generate 750 construction jobs and 75 facility operation jobs, according to the companies.

Once fully operational, the plant is expected to generate over 300,000 megawatt-hours of electricity per year, roughly enough to power 70,000 Spanish homes.