Solar Power


Presented by Allegro Film Productions, this episode of the Science Screen Report shows viewers the state-of-the-art solar power plant in the Mojave Desert near Barstow, Ca. The film begins with shots of solar panels on houses, farm barns, and the commercial solar electric power plant Solar One (01:10), with its solar panel farm. There is a shot of a model of the power plant as well. Computer-controlled heliostats (mirrors) are tested near Albuquerque, NM (02:52) for the Solar One plant. These mirrors reflect energy onto Solar One’s tower with its solar energy receiver. People monitor the system on computers in the plant’s control room (04:50). Aerial footage shows the site of Solar One prior to the completion of construction (05:27), then the film uses graphics to show how the heliostats are arranged based on the location of the sun. Support columns await the installation of the heliostats (07:07). Additional animated graphics are used to show the sun’s energy being captured by the Solar One plant, how water is heated to create steam that drives a turbine generator, and how energy can be stored in an energy storage tank. There is more aerial footage of the completed Solar One plant (11:40) followed by a shot of a hydroelectric power plant on an alpine lake (12:06).

The SOLAR Project consists of the Solar One, Solar Two and Solar Tres solar thermal power plants based in the Mojave Desert, United States and Andalucía, Spain. The US Department of Energy (DOE) and a consortium of US utilities built this country’s first two large-scale, demonstration solar power towers in the desert near Barstow, California. Solar One/Solar Two have been scrapped since 2009, and Solar Tres is under construction.

Solar One was a pilot solar-thermal project built in the Mojave Desert just east of Barstow, CA, USA. It was the first test of a large-scale thermal solar power tower plant. Solar One was designed by the Department of Energy (DOE) (led by Sandia National Laboratories in Livermore, California), Southern California Edison, LA Dept of Water and Power, and California Energy Commission. It was located in Daggett, CA, about 10 miles (16 km) east of Barstow.

Solar One’s method of collecting energy was based on concentrating the sun’s energy onto a common focal point to produce heat to run a steam turbine generator. It had hundreds of large mirror assemblies, or heliostats, that track the sun, reflecting the solar energy onto a tower where a black receiver absorbed the heat. High-temperature heat transfer fluid was used to carry the energy to a boiler on the ground where the steam was used to spin a series of turbines, much like a traditional power plant.

In the late 1970s, a competition was held by the DoE to obtain the best heliostat design for the project. Several promising designs were selected and prototypes were built and shipped to the area for testing. Trade-offs involved simplicity of construction to minimize costs for high-volume manufacturing versus the need for a reliable, two-axis tracking system that could maintain focus on the tower. Rigidity of the structure was a major concern in terms of wind load resistance and durability, but shading of the mirrors by support structures was to be avoided.

The project produced 10 MW of electricity using 1,818 heliostats of 40 m² (430 ft²) reflective surface area each, with a total area of 72,650 m² (782,000 ft²). Solar One was completed in 1981 and was operational from 1982 to 1986. Later redesigned and renamed Solar Two, it could be seen from Interstate 40 where it covered a 51 hectare (126 acre) site, not including the administration building or rail yard facilities shared with a neighboring plant. Solar One/Two and other nearby solar projects are plainly visible via satellite imaging software at 34°52′18″N 116°50′03″W. During times of high winds, blowing dust is sometimes illuminated by the reflected sunbeams to create an unusual atmospheric phenomenon in the vicinity of the power tower. These beams of light were depicted in several scenes, and a painting, in the 1987 movie Bagdad Cafe, which was filmed nearby. Nevada Solar One shares a similar name to Solar One, however it is quite different. It uses a solar thermal parabolic trough system and generates 64 MW.

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This film is part of the Periscope Film LLC archive, one of the largest historic military, transportation, and aviation stock footage collections in the USA. Entirely film backed, this material is available for licensing in 24p HD, 2k and 4k. For more information visit