Photo: Glenn Moncrieff and Planet Labs Inc

  • The Kalahari Desert's Kathu Solar Park will start commercial operation next year.
  • This concentrated solar power plant is due to pump 100MW into South Africa's electricity grid. 
  • It can can keep up its contribution at night and when the sun isn't out, thanks to 4.5 hours of thermal storage in molten salt.

This is the new addition to the Kalahari Desert: the 100 megawatt (MW) renewable energy project called the Kathu Solar Park for the Northern Cape Town outside which it is located. 

Image Kathu Solar Park, SENER and ACCIONA

Kathu is a massive 4.5km2 concentrated solar power plant, with the ability to pump electricity into the national grid even when the sun isn't out.

Its contribution will be enough to supply 179,000 South African homes with stable electricity during peak demand periods. 

Kathu Solar Project. Source: Google Earth

It uses parabolic trough technology that uses giant curved mirrors to track the sun and focus its rays into a pipe. The pipe contains a heat absorbent medium that carries the energy to water in a boiler. The steam then drives a turbine to generate electricity. 

Image: Kathu Solar Park, SENER and ACCIONA

Thanks to a molten-salt storage system, Kathu can store 4.5 hours of thermal energy, which helps reduce the effects of irregular sunlight and allows the opportunity to produce electricity even after the sun goes down.

Kathu is expected to reduce carbon dioxide output by six million tons over a 20-year period after it goes into full commercial operation in 2019.

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