Remember in school when you used your watch face to reflect a spot of sunlight coming in through the window? A very similar system could become the new frontier in solar energy development. In Europe we already have the most powerful solar furnace in the world, located in Odeillo, in France. It has a power of 1 MW. The second most powerful is in Tashkent, in Uzbekistan.
In this state-of-the-art laboratory, located in the department of Pyrénées-Orientales, we study the phenomena that occur at very high temperatures and the behaviour of materials subjected to extreme environments by exploiting solar radiation. The location was chosen for its weather (the Sun shines for more than 3,000 hours a year) and the purity of its atmosphere.
The general principle by which the furnace works is the concentration of the Sun’s rays through mirrors. The Odeillo furnace is located in front of a hill on which 63 heliostats direct sunlight towards a parabola, also mirrored, which causes it to converge on the top of the central tower.
But solar furnaces are nothing new in this corner of France; the first, considered the precursor of the technology, was built in 1949 in Mont-Louis. Today it’s a tourist attraction that you can visit to understand the workings of the technology, which is also used in cooking. There are various types of solar furnaces on the market. Portable camping stoves are quite a common example.