(Image: Heat Accumulator, Credit: DLR/Markus Steur)
It looks as if the German Aerospace Center has made a breakthrough that may give solar energy an edge over its greener rivals.
(German Aerospace Center) So-called heat accumulators are needed so that power generation can be extended to the night hours or times when there is heavy cloud cover. Thanks to scientists at the German Aerospace Center (DLR), it has now been possible for the first time for just such an accumulator to go into operation successfully. […]
The steam accumulator is the result of the EU DISTOR (Energy Storage for Direct Steam) project started in February 2004. Solar Power Stations under the overall control of the DLR Institute for Technical Thermodynamics, a total of 13 partners from industry and research from five countries are working on the development of innovative storage systems for solar-powered steam generators. These storage systems will be designed to take the 200-300 degree Celsius steam generated by solar power, store it and release it again as required with a minimum of loss. So-called latent storage materials are used for this application. They are characterised by the fact that energy can be transported at an almost constant temperature from a solid to a liquid state and vice versa – a principle that has long been used in the low-temperature area with pocket hand-warmers, for example.
While the benefits of this device are fairly obvious on Earth, heat accumulators could enable future lunar colonists to settle anywhere on the Moon without limiting themselves to craters basking in eternal sunlight.
It would also help future Martian settlements maintain power within their colony outposts, which may reduce the need of humans relying upon a mini nuclear reactor in order to survive the frigid Martian nights.
If Germany is able to perfect this technology, they may end up securing their place among the heavens by allowing colonists to live off world–at least within the inner solar system.