Behold The Power Of The Sun

Electricity and Magnetism Level 5

Solar collector power generation plants, such as this one in Spain, work by concentrating solar energy into a small region to drive a steam turbine.

Direct sunlight delivers about \(1000~\mbox{Watts/m}^2\) of energy in the infrared, visible, and ultraviolet parts of the spectrum. I want to use mirrors with a total effective area \(A\) to direct this solar energy into a cube \(1~\mbox{m}\) on a side, heating the cube to a steady \(100^\circ\) Celsius so I can start generating steam and running a turbine. What is the necessary effective mirror surface area \(A\) in \(\mbox{m}^2\) to do this?

Note that your \(A\) will be smaller than you might expect. This is because we have used components that are 100% efficient - all the solar energy gets directed onto the cube. In a real life situation the amount of solar energy redirected by the mirrors is much, much less.


  • The temperature of the air is 20 \(^\circ\)C

Image credit: Abengoa


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