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Electric Power From The Sun

From time to time we hear of new schemes devised by inventors for harnessing the tremendous energy shot earthward every minute of our lives by "Old Sol". An American scientist, Mr. Henry F. Wi1lsie, has recently proposed a new form of Solar Power Plant. Which comprises a number of very interesting and radical features which would seem to promise a successful future for it. Not only is Mr. Willsie a scientific theoretician, but also a man of practical deeds, and to this end he built, some years ago, a solar light and power plant on a small scale out in Arizona.

The development of this plant nearly caused Mr. Willsie and his wife their lives during their mane exciting adventures while experimenting in the wilds and barrenness of an Arizona desert, where sandstorms, cloudbursts, thirst and poisonous reptiles all combined to threaten their very existence. All these experiences are interestingly told in an absorbing novel written by Mrs. Honorť Willsie, entitled "The Forbidden Trail."

Coming back once more to the scientific side of Mr. Willsieís interesting invention, which is shown in the accompanying illustration in one of its applications, we learn that the underlying principle is the drawing of the heat from the sunís rays into a moving sheet of water, which passes up and down thru a series of zigzag passageways, under a double thickness of glass.

Where the sun has considerable thermal power, particularly in the southern part of the United States and other more tropical parts of the world. experience has shown that the sunís heat will cause the temperature of the water to increase to about 150 degrees. The heated water passes into a sulfur dioxid boiler, and eventually this water returns to the glass heating tanks or planes exposed to the sunís rays.

Where a large plant of this type is properly laid out, the mirrors or glass-covered tanks in which the water or liquid is heated by the sunís rays may be arranged in a fixt position, or also they may be designed so as to swing from east to west with the sun, so as to keep the rays perpendicular to the surface at all hours of the day.

A year or so ago there was described in this journal another solar power plant and an elaborate scheme was detailed and illustrated therein for revolving glass heating units in perfect synchronism with the sun by means of an electric-clock regulating device, so that not only did the complete bank of solar units rotate from east to west, but also the angle of the surface of the units was tilted so that this surface was kept exactly at right angles with the solar rays, which means that the surface of the glass tank or units must swing from right to left in the course of the daylight period from eight to ten hours, and also they must be tilted from a nearly vertical position in the morning - thence to a horizontal position at noon - and then once more to an approximately vertical position again in the evening.

In Mr. Willsieís solar power plant there is a trough arranged at the bottom of the glass heating tank into which the heated water at a temperature of 150 degrees or more runs off thru a pipe into the storage tank which in insulated with layers of dry sand. Mr. Willsie explains that the water will remain hot from four to ten days when stored in this tank, and here we have the key to a very novel principle involved in Mr. Willsieís plant, viz., that he can run his engine and dynamo at night without any storage batteries and obtain electric lights, etc., which he actually did at his Arizona plant.

Originally, however, when the plant is put into complete operation, the heated water runs from these storage tanks into the sulfur dioxid engine and boiler system, as shown clearly in the diagrammatical illustration herewith. Sulfur dioxid, as is well known, has a low boiling point, so that it can be placed in the boiler and heated up, allowing the hot water to come into contact with the boiler tubes containing the sulfur dioxid. When the sulfur dioxid in the boiler commences to boil, you then obtain the necessary sulfur dioxid steam wherewith to run the engine. In other words, instead of using the fire to make steam in the boiler, hot water is used instead, which originally obtained its heat from the sun directly.

As the sulfur dioxid steam leaves the engine cylinder it is not exhausted into the open air, owing to its initial high cost, but it is exhausted into a series of pipes over which cold water is sprayed. This water, in the case of irrigation plants, such as that developed by Mr. Willsie in Arizona, is the same water that is pumped by the engine (the pump being a separate machine connected to the engine by belt or otherwise) for irrigation purposes, so nothing is lost in this stage, but the sulfur dioxid steam is condensed and is then re-pumped or otherwise directed back again into the boiler, only to be heated all over again by the hot water coming from the sun tanks.

As Mr. Willsie has pointed out, electric light was had at night at his Arizona solar plant, which was actually made by the rays of the sun shining during the preceding day, a seeming paradox, were it not for the facts explained heretofore - that he has found it possible to cause the hot water to retain its quota of heat energy even for several days at a time, when it is stored in properly built tanks insulated with layers of dry sand, or other heat insulating materials.

Where this may not be practicable, we can always have recourse to electric storage batteries, in which the dynamo would pump electric energy during the day on certain days. Then whenever the battery became sufficiently low in its charge, the electric energy required could be drawn from the storage battery at night or at any other time. Under certain conditions it would probably not be necessary to operate the solar plant to charge the storage battery more than one day a week, as, for instance, where such a plant was installed (of the proper size, of course) for, let us say, lighting a private dwelling or farmhouse and outbuildings, etc. By having a sufficiently large storage battery which would generate the energy required for lighting purposes for a period of one week, this could be taken care of by charging for just one day complete.

At any rate, it is a case of getting something for nothing, so far as spending the "coin of the realm" is concerned, and this is what most people are worried about today, with the H. C. L. still soaring skyward. Of course, it is not something for nothing in a strict sense of the word, for we are utilizing the energy of the sunís rays. The foregoing covers the doubt exprest by many people when they first hear about solar energy plants, for their invariable and natural first question is "What about cloudy weather, and, even tho we have quite a number of sunny days, you may even have three or four cloudy days in one week?" This is very true, but the aforementioned explanation as to charging the storage batteries but one or two days a week, or possibly, as Mr. Willsie points out, by suitably storing the heated water in special storage tanks, explains this problem.

And, anyway, it will probably not come to pass very soon that we shall be selling and installing solar electric lighting plants on the roofs of apartment houses, in the northern parts of the United States, as if these were as cheap as sand in the Sahara Desert, the average city dweller would not bother with it, when he can spend $2.00 or so a month and have the local electric lighting company supply all the "juice" he requires without bothering his head about it.

But it is another question when we come to consider the vast stretches of land such as those in the South and Southwestern parts of the United States, where the fight for survival of plant life is seen to be dependent upon the all-important quantity water. And here is where these solar plants should and will find their ultimate goal and adoption in large quantities, for it is uneconomical under any consideration, to attempt on a large scale an irrigation of such large tracts of desert by means of coal or oil driven plants, as these fuel commodities are becoming more expensive each year.

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