A deal has been signed to build the world's largest solar power plant in southern California.
The 4,500 acre site will generate 500 megawatts using 20,000 37-foot solar collectors. These focus the sun's power to drive Stirling engines, which use temperature differentials to drive pistons without the use of oil and with zero emissions.
"At a time of rising fossil-fuel costs and increased concern about greenhouse gas emissions, the Stirling project would provide enough clean power to serve 278,000 homes for an entire year," said John Bryson, chairman of Southern California Edison, who has signed a 20-year deal to buy power from the site.
The finished plant could also be extended to create 850 megawatts of power at a later date. A test system of six solar arrays has been operating for 26,000 hours at the Sandia National Laboratories in Albuquerque, New Mexico.
The use of Stirling engines doubles the efficiency of traditional solar power systems, such as photovoltaic cells or parabolic troughs, which generate steam for turbines.
Stirling engines were invented nearly 200 years ago by Scottish clergyman and part time engineer Robert Stirling. They generate small amounts of electricity very quietly and have been used for decades, notably in the Swedish Navy's submarine fleet.
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