Simon Benmarraze
2013, France
A mirror system that concentrates sunlight to produce more economical energy

Compact solar thermodynamic technology to produce energy more economical and efficient.

Building a thermosolar plant in a country like France, whose national energy policy (and investments) over the last 40 years has been directed almost entirely to nuclear energy, must have sounded like a joke a few years ago. Yet, Simon Benmarraze, a young entrepreneur graduated from the University of Lorraine, and his start-up company, Solar Euromed, have achieved an impressive breakthrough: Alba Nova 1, located in Corse, is the first thermosolar plant under construction in France and is expected to start production in summer 2015.

A thermosolar plant of the kind, developed by Solar Euromed, consists of a number of large, flat mirrors called Linear Fresnel reflectors, which rotate with the position of the sun and concentrate its energy towards an absorption tube containing water. A high-temperature steam of the order of 500 degrees is produced, and is then used for multiple purposes, including the production of electricity through steam turbines. Flat mirrors are cheaper than curved ones and imply a lower cost for this kind of plants, as well as allowing for a modular installation. In the Alba Nova 1 plant, additional advances have been implemented in terms of design, operating temperature and compact system construction, which make it more efficient than the previous installation at Puerto Errado in the South of Spain. As Benmarraze explains, this plant achieves a more efficient production rate, with one MW of energy produced every 1.3 hectares of land.

If the breakthrough in France is significant, it is elsewhere that most of the potential lies, namely where solar energy is more widely available and still underexploited: India, Middle East, and Africa. As Benmarraze explains, “Saudi Arabia alone will invest 100 billion euros to produce over 25 GW of electricity through thermosolar plants, which triggered the interest of energy giants such as Areva.’’ Further to that, most of the nuclear plants in France are coming to the end of their cycle and debates on nuclear energy are now more common than before. Thanks to their small size, strong focus on innovation and flexible approach, Solar Euromed is today an official partner of the French government to discuss energy production deals with a number of countries, and has plans to install 370 MW overall in the MENA (Mediterranean, North-Africa and Middle East) area over the next few years.