Frequently Asked Questions

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Questions By Category

The Technology
Is this the same technology as the photovoltaic panels that I see on rooftops?

Tim J. Connor

Vice President of Engineering and Technology

No, the only similarity to photovoltaic panels is that both technologies use sunlight as fuel. SolarReserve’s technology concentrates the sun’s energy with large mirrors in order to generate thermal energy or heat. The sun’s thermal energy is used to heat molten salt, which can be stored. Molten salt is a very efficient heat carrier and storage medium. The stored molten salt can be called upon at any time to generate steam, which will then drive a turbine to create electricity. The latter half of this process, also called a steam cycle, is identical to the process used in traditional coal or nuclear power plants, except it is 100 percent renewable and 100 percent clean.

How does SolarReserve technology differ from other concentrated solar power technologies such as troughs and other power towers?

William R. Gould, Jr.

Chief Technology Officer

SolarReserve’s molten salt power tower technology has integrated energy storage, which is the key differentiator. Other CSP technologies such as parabolic trough, dish engine, and “direct to steam” power tower do not have integrated energy storage. Some of these technologies have begun to add secondary energy storage to the back end of their systems, but this add-on storage results in significant efficiency losses and increased costs. Other power tower technology uses water as the working fluid to capture the sun’s thermal energy - but that water is heated directly to steam, which means it’s prone to the same intermittency issues as wind and PV.

How big is a SolarReserve power plant?

Tim Connor

Vice President of Engineering and Technology

The field of mirrors, called heliostats, is roughly 2 square miles or 1,280 acres. The power tower is approximately 650 feet tall including the almost 100 feet tall molten salt receiver. The plant can generate between 50 and 200 megawatts of electricity, depending on the configuration of power load that the utility or customer requires. One megawatt is enough power to supply approximately 1,000 U.S. households.

What are the plant’s emissions?

Tim Connor

Vice President of Engineering and Technology

An operating SolarReserve power plant is 100 percent clean. No fossil fuels are required to operate the plant.

What is molten salt?

William R. Gould, Jr.

Chief Technology Officer

Molten salt, which is used as a heat storage medium in the SolarReserve power plant, is an entirely environmentally friendly mixture of sodium and potassium nitrate. In fact, in solid form, it is traditionally used as garden fertilizer.

Aren’t all solar thermal technologies the same and offer the same advantages?

Alistair Jessop

Senior Vice President, Development

Solar thermal technologies refer to mechanisms that capture the sun’s energy to generate thermal energy (heat). These mechanisms vary significantly in scale, how they collect the sun’s energy and how thermal energy is produced.

SolarReserve’s utility-scale molten salt power tower technology collects the sun’s energy using thousands of mirrors, called heliostats, to concentrate the sunlight on a receiver atop a large tower. Molten salt, the technology’s working fluid, is heated in the receiver and stored until electricity is needed by a utility. At this time, the molten salt flows into a steam generator to generate steam to power a standard steam turbine to generate reliable, non-intermittent electricity during peak demand hours. This gives SolarReserve the unique ability to provide on-demand, reliable electricity from the sun—even after dark.

Does this technology actually exist, or is this just a concept?

William R. Gould, Jr.

Chief Technology Officer

SolarReserve’s lead project, the 110 megawatt (MW) Crescent Dunes Solar Energy Project with 10 hours of full load energy storage is operational in Nevada. 

What is the significance of SolarReserve’s ability to store the sun’s energy?

William R. Gould, Jr.

Chief Technology Officer

SolarReserve’s ability to store the sun’s energy answers the call for a large-scale solar energy source generator that provides dependable power any time, whether or not the sun is shining. This groundbreaking capability allows SolarReserve plants to operate the same way a coal, nuclear or natural gas plant does, except with no reliance on fossil fuel and no harmful emissions or hazardous wastes. Our integrated storage capability using molten salt technology means SolarReserve is able to provide reliable, on-demand base load power to a utility whenever electricity is needed, even after the sun has set.

What are the advantages of the power tower system compared to the trough system?

William R. Gould, Jr.

Chief Technology Officer

Solar power towers, which use an array of tracking reflectors to concentrate the sun’s energy on a central receiver tower, are able to concentrate sunlight more efficiently than trough systems, allowing the towers to generate higher temperature steam and use more efficient turbines, thereby reducing energy costs. Power towers also allow for better energy storage capabilities as compared to the trough systems.

Also, SolarReserve’s power tower system uses molten salt as the working fluid, as opposed to the therminol oil that is used in trough systems. Molten salt, which is completely environmentally-friendly, has the ability to retain the sun’s heat for hours so that electricity can be generated when needed, even in total darkness.

What is the difference between photovoltaic and concentrated solar power technology?

Tim J. Connor

Vice President of Engineering and Technology

Photovoltaic (PV) solar technology converts sunlight directly into electricity using PV cells made of semiconductor materials whereas concentrated solar power (CSP) systems concentrate the sun’s energy using reflective devices such as mirror panels or troughs to produce heat to be generated into electricity.

Economic Benefits
How is SolarReserve creating jobs and contributing to the growth of the green economy?

Kevin Smith

Chief Executive Officer

SolarReserve generates hundreds of direct jobs and thousands of indirect induced jobs for each and every project. For example, the Crescent Dunes Solar Energy Project is expected to create more than 600 jobs on the project site over the 30-month construction period and 4,300 direct and indirect induced jobs in the facility supply chain including manufacturing, value-added services and transportation. Additionally, the project will employ 45 full-time operational staff, spend upwards to $10 million per year in operating costs and is forecasted to generate $37 million in total tax revenues over the first 10 years of operation, contributing to local school systems and police and fire departments.

Does electricity from SolarReserve cost more than electricity from traditional sources such as natural gas and coal?

Kevin Smith

Chief Executive Officer

At full scale, we anticipate our power prices to be competitive with modern fossil fuel-based generation facilities when evaluating the life cycle cost for fuel and other environmental costs. As the costs of fossil fuels rise, as most forecasts predict, electricity from these sources will rise accordingly. SolarReserve plants, which use free, infinite sunlight as its fuel source, will not be affected by fossil fuel prices, and therefore will produce comparatively cheaper electricity in the future.

About SolarReserve
I want to help build this revolutionary technology—is SolarReserve hiring?

Stephen Mullennix

Senior Vice President Operations

Keep an eye out for a Careers page on this website in the near future. SolarReserve is growing rapidly and anticipates hiring a team of passionate, brilliant people to manage this growth.

Where do you envision future SolarReserve plants being built?

Alistair Jessop

Senior Vice President, Development

Since the company's formation in early 2008, SolarReserve's experienced team has assembled an extensive global development pipeline of 6.6 gigawatts (GW) across the world's most attractive, high growth renewable energy markets. SolarReserve is headquartered in Santa Monica, California, and maintains a global presence with seven international offices strategically located in Africa, the Americas, the Asia-Pacific region, the Middle East, and Europe to support its widespread project development activities across more than 20 countries.

Why is SolarReserve developing both photovoltaic and concentrated solar power projects?

Joel M. Link

Vice President Development

SolarReserve recognizes that the energy generation needs of utilities vary. To best accommodate our customers’ needs, we are developing a full solar portfolio of PV and concentrated solar technologies that allow utilities to harness the unique attributes of both systems.

Why do electric utilities favor SolarReserve’s solution?

Tom Georgis

Senior Vice President of Development

The molten salt storage technology enables SolarReserve to deploy electricity whenever the utility demands it. SolarReserve’s power plants can generate electricity 24 hours per day, or only when electricity demand is at its highest. Other renewable technologies, such as wind and traditional solar power, offer no or limited thermal storage, and therefore can only generate electricity when the wind blows or when the sun shines.

What type of impact do SolarReserve’s power plants have on the local environment?

Kevin Smith

Chief Executive Officer

At SolarReserve, we are passionate about protecting our planet and providing a healthy and secure future for generations to come. While clean, renewable energy development is critical to produce the energy we need without damaging the air we breathe and water we drink, we must be mindful of the impact of clean power production on the very resources we are working to protect.

As part of SolarReserve’s project development process, we engage and collaborate with communities to find solutions to avoid and minimize environmental impact. This process includes careful site selection, low water use systems and extensive environmental studies prior to starting construction on any project.