Solar Thermal Electric Power Plants
Parabol Trough Power Plant.
Parabol Trough Power Plant.

Solar thermal electric power plants generate electricity by converting solar energy to heat, which drives a thermal power plant; combined heat and power generation (CHP) plants (sometimes called cogeneration plants) generate also process heat or process cooling.

They are not to confuse with Photoelectric Effects in Solar Cells to generate electric power.

Probably the most widely known types of solar thermal electric power plants are Solar Power Tower Plants. They use different methods to concentrate the solar thermal energy and to generate electric power from the heat. Solar chimney power stations use the thermal lift effects of sun-heated air to produce a constant air flow powering a wind turbine; parabolic trough power plants and power tower plants are fundamentally very sophisticated steam or gas turbine power plants, wherein temperatures above 1.000° C are possible (depending on the design details).

Another type of solar thermal electric power plants are the so-called Dish-Stirling systems, using Stirling Motors to generate electric power from solar heat concentrated by a Parabolic Mirror. Although a single Dish-Stirling system produces only about 50 kW at highest (using mirrors with about 16-18 metres in diameter), a much higher over-all output can be accomplished by setting up "Solar Farms" containing hundreds of such systems.

Since solar thermal electric power plants can produce electricity at costs of 6 to 15 Cents per kWh they are economically favoured to photovoltaics for building big power plants.

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