Islands in the steam
May 2, 2012 9:40 AM   Subscribe

Solar Islands: A new concept for low-cost solar energy at very large scale.
A reduced-scale prototype is under construction.
posted by flabdablet (19 comments total) 1 user marked this as a favorite

This seems a little... uh, simplistic. I like how it has a "computer rendering" which is a circle on a flat plane, with a sun-like object. YEP, that sure gets the details.

Nothing appears to be suggested about how to move the heat energy back to where it might be needed.
posted by odinsdream at 10:08 AM on May 2, 2012 [1 favorite]

That's a good idea. Build a trough, fill it with water, float your giant solar mini-mirror-collection on it. Rotate the follow the sun, probably by just having wheels around the edge.

For the sea version I would think you would need a deep weight suspended from the middle to damp out wave induced vibration, but still no reason it wouldn't work. You have to run a power cable to shore anyway.


1. Easy to manufacture component parts? Looks like.
2. Easy to assemble final article? Easier than any other kind of powerplant.
3. Easy to maintain? I would think so. Got to keep the mirrors clean, but very few moving parts. Glass does better in salt air than pretty much anything else.
4. Cheap enough? Cheap for large scale solar power.
posted by BeeDo at 10:10 AM on May 2, 2012 [1 favorite]

After seeing odindream's comment: I guess they would be pumping out cold water and pumping back steam.
posted by BeeDo at 10:13 AM on May 2, 2012

I've been looking around google earth for about 15 minutes in the state of Ras al Khaimah in the UAE. I've found 2 circular buildings with 5 point stars, look like maybe schools? But no floating glass islands yet? Hope me!
posted by joecacti at 10:16 AM on May 2, 2012

So it lies there, and the sun shines on it. Then what happens?
posted by Naberius at 10:37 AM on May 2, 2012

It's a sheet of mirrors that are configured to focus the sun toward a central tube that presumably holds water. The water boils and becomes steam which can drive turbines. This is already done, as they show in the first link, by both cylindrical mirrors and extra-flat concentrators. They show why the current methods are not that practical.

Their method is an extra flat concentrator which lies flat, is supported by an inflated membrane, and that can be easily turned to follow the sun, without the current problems of EFCs (wind mostly I gather)

(This is all in the text of the first link...)
posted by RustyBrooks at 11:34 AM on May 2, 2012 [1 favorite]

We are hopefully approaching the end of the "let's keep using the same amount of energy but make it cleaner by destroying vast wilderness lands or covering the seas with turbine towers and giant swimming pool covers" era.

"Green" energy is not green at all when you are scraping and killing and covering the natural world to build your renewable energy factories. We are finally starting to see organized pushback from the environmental movement in California, where a combination of state and federal subsidies and goals have caused a sleazy gold rush of Wall Street shell companies that use borrowed money to destroy public lands and then leave the mess behind.

Solar belongs on rooftops (bigger the better) and on previously disturbed land adjacent to the urban populations that use the power; there's no lack of either, from warehouse stores to closed landfills.

A miles-long solar factory built over nature is no greener than a miles-long natural gas field -- worse, actually, as the earth is flattened and scraped clean of every plant and animal for the construction of solar factories.
posted by kenlayne at 1:26 PM on May 2, 2012 [4 favorites]

Don't cut down old growth forest or pave over the last habitat of an endangered species, sure. But I don't think every single meter of desert in the southwest US is irreplaceable. We've got room for both.

Those two links are pretty neat.
posted by BeeDo at 1:59 PM on May 2, 2012

"a prototype solar island in the desert of the UAE near Ras al Khaimah City. The construction of this prototype island (diameter 100m) has started; it should begin to operate by mid of 2008."

2008. says they built the prototype on land.

Last news was in 2009:
posted by hank at 2:31 PM on May 2, 2012 [2 favorites]

Anyone got time to look for it? Here's the lat/long
posted by hank at 2:32 PM on May 2, 2012

There isn't any reason you couldn't use the land under the collector for good purpose. Here in Canada we already have pressurized domes (IE: Large tarp buildings held up by nothing but air pressure) covering tennis courts, soccer fields and other large expanses requiring freedom from support. Little to no unfiltered light would reach the ground of course but it would still be useful for warehousing at a minimum.

Easy to imagine new industrial and commercial buildings built under a membrane offering covered parking. Plus the buildings would be cheaper because they wouldn't have to protect against the elements. And every building could be supplied with steam off the generator directly for use in heating.

Key to this kind of dual use would be the catastrophic failure mode of the membrane. Also finding a membrane that was suffieciently UV stable.

It'll be interesting to see how the pilot projects work out.
posted by Mitheral at 2:33 PM on May 2, 2012

oops, slap me silly for forgetting to hide the URL
posted by hank at 2:33 PM on May 2, 2012

I don't get how this is any cheaper than existing solar thermal installations. Building a giant hovercraft island seems way harder than incrementally adding trackers as budget allows. I'm not even going to touch the ridiculous idea of building them on the ocean.

Besides, they haven't addressed the real problem with solar-thermal stations: The need to find a great big sunny flat area to get capacity factors that aren't crap, but not so far from load centers that you waste money on infrastructure and line losses.
posted by Popular Ethics at 4:45 PM on May 2, 2012 [1 favorite]

You greatly reduce the complexity by only have a few motors able to swing the entire structure rather than needing to manage trackers and motors on each individual mirror. And you can get away with a single interconnect instead of all those individual interconnects on multiple flat plate collectors/mirrors. Also your foundation costs instead of being linear reduce as you step up the size.

It sounds loony to me to float these on the ocean, stabilization is a very hard problem all you have to do is look at the problems of oil rigs and boats both of which aren't trying to remain flat. But the water filled trough sounds interesting and I imagine it would also work on a shallow man made lake.

As far as the real problem goes there are lots of industrial processes that could make use of the heat/power. Desalination and aluminum production come immediately to mind.

At any rate I dropped them an email at their contact address asking for an update; here's hoping it's not just a zombie site lurching alone well after the project has died.
posted by Mitheral at 7:03 PM on May 2, 2012

Until we find a way to store energy in a high-energy content, dense substance which can be stored and physically transported, the idea of solar islands floating on water seems pretty useless.
If they were located far offshore (over deep water) cable cost would add up and maintenance would be difficult, and if such a giant pancake were to be anchored close to shore, environmental concerns would probably disable the plan in an early stage.
Also, the company/project looks dead for all I could find - the last registered change was in 2010 and the project is rather outdated.
posted by Laotic at 9:16 PM on May 2, 2012

I'm gonna go ahead and call bs until someone can show me a picture from an orbiting 3rd party satellite. Ahoy 2012!
posted by joecacti at 5:27 AM on May 3, 2012

Well, color me purple. I thought the Google Earth image was from 2012, but it's from 2004. The bing map posted by hank hits it right on. Looks like this thing is real.
posted by joecacti at 5:34 AM on May 3, 2012

Looking at that Bing image I was going to comment a lack of cars in the parking lot but I don't any in any of the surrounding building either. Holiday or do people not park outside in the UAE?
posted by Mitheral at 7:15 AM on May 3, 2012

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