Vintage solar power visit

Posted: October 18, 2010 by tallbloke in Energy

While Kath and I were on holiday last week we happened by Font Romeu in south west France. It is the sunniest place in Europe, with an average of 3000 hours of sunshine every year.

The sunshine hours at Font Romeu make it the best location for the Odeillo solar furnace. Built in 1970, It has 9,600 mirrors to capture the sun’s energy and concentrate it to reach temperatures over 3,000°C. The Odeillo laboratory is dedicated to research on ceramics.


Odeillo Four Solaire collector


Back in the ’70’s when it was buit, they used it to generate electricity via the production of steam, using the heat exchanger pictured below. You can see the mirror arrays in the background which reflect the direct sunlight onto the curved collector shown above, which then focusses the rays into the tower in front.


Four Solaire Heat Exchanger


Unfortunately, we were there too early in the morning for the guided tour, and had to be on our way, as a general strike or ‘Greve’  by the French people (ironically about fossil fuel availability and price, and retirement age) meant our journey back to Carcassonne involved bypassing the railway system by use of the thumb.

However, the occasionally useful Wikipedia has a brief description here:

I love big heat engines. 🙂

  1. Tim Channon says:

    Not heard of that place in years, so it is still there. Didn’t know you were a Sun or Daily Mirror fan. 😉

    I never commented about your oliday, thought it was better to let you just find out.
    Over many years we’ve been far and wide over there, always independent travellers.

  2. tallbloke says:

    Hi Tim,
    We didn’t spend long in France as it turned out. It was lashing with rain when we arrived in Carcassonne, so we stuck out the thumb and picked up a great lift from a friendly Algerian farmer all the way up to Andorra. We spend the next five days hiking in the high Pyrenees between unmanned ‘refuggio’ mountain huts collecting firewood as we went and enjoying some spectacular views:



  3. GregO says:


    That’s wild! And the French set that up in 1970? Awesome. Check this out…

  4. tallbloke says:

    Hi GregO, yes, the French have been ahead of the curve on power production for a long time. One of the few countries with a viable and well developed nuclear industry. They have had a couple o accidents recently though (2008).

    Stirling engines are a favourite of mine. Another French owned power company (E-on) has been makig some prototype domestic heat and power units which use natural gas to heat radiators and generate a kilowatt or so of electricity. Their stirling engines get around the old problem of working pressure leaking out via the connecting rod seals by doing away with the connecting rod. Instead they have magnets embedded in the displacer which oscillate relative to coils around the cylinder. The unit is designed to run at a rate which then generates 50Hz AC.

  5. Zeke the Sneak says:

    Beautiful mountains! And while you were away, there was a barycenter thread on WUWT. I was going to post a link to Tallbloke’s Talkshop, but I got into a scrape of my own and didn’t get to it. Sad to say. What a missed opportunity. Well everyone knows you, on the bright side. 😀

    Check your calender, and please attend some upcoming presentations on World Science Database.
    These are interesting live events on various scientific subjects.
    Saturday, Nov 29th 7-9 AM Guest Speaker Wal Thornhill
    Sat. Nov 6th Guest Speaker Prof. Andre K. T. Assis also looks interesting

    Hope some of you will be able to make it. It’s a fun venue!

  6. tallbloke says:

    Thanks Zeke, I’ll diarise.

  7. Zeke the Sneak says:

    Well if anyone finds themselves pondering astronomy and celestial mechanics around that time, why not?

    Nov 27th Sat is the correct date

  8. Douglas DC says:

    The Pyrenees look a lot like the Blue mountains of NE Oregon. I know a few Basque
    families who have said that. Looks like you had a great trip….