Solar tower of power coming to Spain, Abu Dhabi

Torresol Energy, a joint venture of Masdar and Sener, aims to create 1 gigawatt of energy--the equivalent of a large coal-fired power plant--from solar thermal power plants in 10 years.

Spanish renewable energy firm Sener and Abu Dhabi's clean-energy initiative, Masdar, announced a joint venture on Wednesday to build several power plants fueled by the sun's heat.

The newly created firm, Torresol Energy, said it plans to build at least two large concentrating solar power plants a year with a goal of generating 320 megawatts over the next 5 years and 1,000 megawatts in 10 years. A large coal-fired power plant typically can produce hundreds of megawatts of electricity.

In a solar tower, mirrors reflect light to generate heat at the tower top where steam is made to turn a turbine. Torresol Energy

One of the designs that the venture intends to use is a solar receiver tower to be built in Abu Dhabi.

In a tower construction, several mirrors are mounted on the ground to reflect light to the top of a tower, where steam is created to turn an electricity turbine. A handful of other companies, including BrightSource Energy and eSolar, are pursuing a similar tower design.

The new company underscores the surge in investment on solar thermal technologies, which use the sun's heat, rather than photovoltaic panels, to generate electricity.

A number of solar thermal power plants are being proposed for the Southwest United States and Spain, where conditions are best.

Sener already operates three 50 megawatt plants that use parabolic troughs to reflect light and generate heat. They also incorporate molten salt storage to generate electricity when the sun is not shining.