Energy Monument Crisis

Gemasolar concentrated solar power plant, near Fuentes de Andalucía
Nuclear power plant in Bavaria

The very brightly glowing tower of the upper photograph is situated in the agrarian countryside between Seville and Cordova. Visible from afar thanks to both its height and its mysterious brightness, it can easily be mistaken for a misplaced contemporary architectural monument of some sort.

But no, this is not yet another Spanish politician’s architectural capricho. This tower is in fact useful and practical. Even s-u-s-t-a-i-n-a-b-l-e: it’s a concentrated solar power plant. A large array of mirrors (heliostats) on the ground track the sun to reflect and concentrate its rays onto a 150 meter high tower containing salt that melts under the intense heat. This molten salt remains hot enough to produce steam to drive turbines for well over 12 hours, enabling this type of solar power facility to generate electricity at night.
The Gemasolar plant is one of a handful of CSP experiments in southern Spain. If this technology proves to be commercially viable and competitive, we could be seeing many more of these on other continents.
Given the current energy crisis, though, this tower is nevertheless on its way to becoming a monument of sorts due to the hope it symbolizes. Could we finally have found a safe, reliable and economical alternative to carbon? Considering how this tower actually performs, it is interesting to compare it to the image of a nuclear power station, whose cooling tower is a retired symbol of progress if ever there was one.
The CSP tower is also beautifully illustrative (reflective?) of the expanding range of uses to which non-urban land is put these days. Knowing the lay of the land is quickly becoming as difficult as trying to make sense of a metropolis.

About Rafael Gomez-Moriana

I am an architect, writer and educator. rafagomo.com chronicles my architectural making, writing, teaching and curating activity, while criticalista.com is an archive of my writings as well as a platform for venting personal rants and observations. I studied architecture at the University of Waterloo (Canada) and at the Berlage Institute (the Netherlands). I direct the University of Calgary’s architecture term-abroad program in Barcelona and teach at CIEE, and have previously taught in the Metropolis Masters Program in Architecture and Urban Culture as well as at Carleton University and the University of Manitoba.

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