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US Department of Energy grants $737 million loan for innovative solar power plant


The Obama administration’s Department of Energy has awarded a $737 million loan guarantee to Santa Monica, California-based solar energy startup, SolarReserve, reports Forbes. The money will be used to build a groundbreaking new 110-megawatt solar thermal plant in Nevada that will be capable of generating electricity 24 hours per day.

The move should please environmental advocates, as it shows that the US government is willing to invest massive amounts of cash in alternative energy technology that has so far been untested on a commercial scale. The solar plant, set to be built in Tonopah, Nevada, which is about 4 hours North of Las Vegas, will produce 500,000 megawatt hours per year, which is enough to power 75,000 homes at peak output.

The new clean-energy power plant, officially known as Crescent Dunes Solar Energy Project, is also good for the area, as it will generate approximately 600 new jobs in Nevada’s Nye County, and more than 4,000 jobs across the US.

“Nevada’s future is in clean energy and we can create jobs and strengthen our economy by investing in the development of more solar, wind, geothermal and other sources of renewable power found in abundance right here at home in the Silver State,” said Rep. Shelley Berkley (D-NV) in an announcement of the loan. “That is why I fought Republican efforts to cut the loans for renewable energy projects like this new solar plant near Tonopah.”

The technology used to build the plant is, literally, rocket science. SolarReserves founders, who come from United Technology subsidiary, Pratt & Whitney Rocketdyne, combine solar technology with rocket engine heat transfer technology to build a 640-foot-tall thermal storage tower.

The new plant will work by using the sun to heat up molten salts to a scorching 1,050 degrees Fahrenheit during daytime hours. The heat stored in the salts will then be used to boil water that will turn turbines at night, thus producing electricity.

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