How concentrated solar power could fuel the future | Big Think

How concentrated solar power could fuel the future
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What if we could not only harness the power of the sun, but actually use it to run the entire planet?

Concentrated solar power (CSP) has the potential to do just that — using arrays of revolving mirrors called heliostats, light is reflected into a massive receiver. Thanks to recent advancements in technology, the cost to replicate these Sunlight Refineries™ is dropping. Soon solar energy will be cleaner and cheaper than using fossil fuels, which could mean adoption on a global scale.

Heliogen, a company founded by Bill Gross and backed by Bill Gates, wants to eliminate all uses of fossil fuels. Using cameras, AI, and machine learning, they are working to make these CSP systems smarter and much more efficient.

This episode is from Hard Reset, a Freethink original series about rebuilding the world from scratch and reimagining everything from first principles.

Catch more Hard Reset episodes on their channel:

NARRATOR: This might look like a death ray, but it’s not. It’s actually…

One enormous, very accurate magnifying glass.

NARRATOR: This magnifying glass has a technical name, a sunlight refinery. To use it, find somewhere really sunny, plop down a bunch of mirrors, bounce the sunlight into a single spot and you can melt just about anything. Okay, so it is kind of death ray-ish. Why do this? Because manufacturing steel or cement requires a lot of heat and making something super hot has historically meant burning dinosaurs.

STEVE SCHELL: You look at the massive carbon footprint that is associated with these industrial applications and it can’t be ignored.

NARRATOR: Twenty percent of global carbon emissions to be precise. And because this technology is so good, it might just change the entire energy industry. And prevent World War III in the process.

This is “Hard Reset,” a series about rebuilding our world from scratch.

Just east of Six Flags and north of LA is a place called Lancaster, which is very flat, very hot and a perfect place to test a takeover of the world’s energy supply. [dramatic music] Yeah, that sounded more Bond villain-y than I thought it would. Anyway, these are called heliostats and the reason this solar refinery works so well is that under these mirrors and shot glasses are pretty simple motors that they can control remotely. And this allows the mirrors to change angles throughout the day, depending on where the sun is. How do they know where the sun is? Interns. No, AI, of course.

BILL GROSS: You need to take each of thousands of mirrors and point them very, very precisely, accurate to about 1/10 or 1/20 of a degree.

NARRATOR: That’s Bill Gross, genius visionary and founder of over 150 companies. Also super nice guy.

GROSS: Thank you, I really appreciate it.

NARRATOR: At the top of the tower, high-resolution cameras monitor the position of the mirrors below.

SCHELL: You can actually see the two at the top are the easiest to pick out ’cause they’re on booms above the receiver.

NARRATOR: So Heliogen gets all those mirrors to reflect sunlight into that big target at the top.

SCHELL: So what we’ve got just above us is the solar receiver. So you can see that’s what we saw from ground level. That’s where that concentrated sunlight is focused when the field is operating.

NARRATOR: The cameras know if the mirrors are bouncing into the sun because those cameras are assessing the quality of the sky’s blue. Let’s break that down with Steve, who has cool tattoos.

SCHELL: This is my robot battle armor and what I have here is a jungle on an alien planet with robots tending the garden.

NARRATOR: And is in charge of the technology stuff here.

SCHELL: What these cameras see is the reflection of the sky close to the sun. Close to the sun, the sky appears very bright from the scattered sunlight coming through it and the further away from the sun you look, the darker or less bright that patch of sky appears to be.

NARRATOR: So the cameras look at the color blue and the AI uses that information to assess the distance from the sun, deduce the orientation of the mirror and therefore, where the beam is going.

SCHELL: So every few seconds, we get a measurement of where that beam is going and we can command the heliostat to make small corrections to optimize its tracking. In this industry, that is a complete game changer ’cause now we don’t rely on the hardware to be so precise, we have software to make it precise. So it really changes everything about how that plant…

To read the full transcript, please go to


  1. I have the same questions as I do for all potential “green” energy solutions…. Where will you get all the silver?

  2. I’d like to talk to these people, got some ideas. I may not have any scientific qualifications but that doesn’t mean that my ideas won’t be beneficial to human kind. Guess I’ll just be ignored like normal. 😢. Nice watching progress if it indeed is FACTUAL. Thing is being a “conspiracy theorist” I believe that my ideas have already been done but simply being hidden but like stated…it’s just a theory.

  3. One Sun one world one grid Indian pm Narendra Modi said long back but western country is responsible not supporting Paris climate agreement Trump🤦‍♂️

  4. if this is implemented on mass scale it will cause massive loss of ground water and desertification… likely to cause even further massive climate variations. you are literally roasting the soil…….. this will cause more suffering in the countries you wish to farm from

  5. Nope, solar energy and wind will never be able to replace Fossil fuels no matter how hard people try. The only good and green way is nuclear energy helped by solar and wind, but primarly nuclear.

  6. Solar is obsolete…..we’re going to free power from Tesla energy🤣 The dumbasses wanted solar power the ugly projects all around the area they are an eyesore to our landscape.

  7. And lets discuss the environmental impact of such an operation. Carbon can be used, absorbed or recycled by the environment while solar's side effects can not.

  8. If we ended all fossil fuel subsidies this technology would already be cheaper than coal or oil. The only reason gas is so cheap is because it's subsidized by taxpayers and because the infrastructure already exists.

  9. No, this is small think. I hear they're building a solar rocket but it can only be launched in the summer.

  10. So in this model, if these few countries control electric supply… Aren't we creating another gulf region?

  11. More pie in the sky stuff. A concentrated solar generator from years ago is currently decomposing in a US desert right now that was supposed to be the future!

  12. I use far and away the most energy for heating, air and water in my home… when you figure out how to get energy out of starlight, give me a call, because its dark where I live in the wintertime ……

  13. it is a death ray … for the birds and insects

    nice, in the future we won't fight over oil, we'll fight over areas with enough sunshine to power the death rays

  14. Narator: "…change the entire energy industry"
    Director: cuts to clips of military invasion
    That escalated quickly 😬

  15. Lobbyists on capital hill: (Laughs in greed)
    The undercover Lobbyists: (laughs in greed)
    Their employers: (Laughs in greed)
    The bribe accepting Congressman: (laughs in greed)
    The bribe accepting senators: (laughs in greed)

    Their opposition will be a problem ☝🏽
    For Heliogen and everyone else.

  16. I'll tell you why somewhere else has control over our fuel, it's because the people running things are crooked as fuck

  17. We do not have the technology to end fossil fuel. It's just a pipe dream of the delusional left wing nut jobs.

  18. 😂😂bhai use geothermal directly 😹. More cost effective than this 🤣🤣 afterall it's the same idea when you used rocks

  19. Hold up, his primary issue was that some country in a desert climate could shut of the oil pipeline but the plan is to put these in desert areas and ship hidrogen to the rest of the world… I'm all in for green tech, but it hardly seems to fix that issue by itself like he tells us it will do.

  20. That’s great and all, but:
    1) the sun is not an evenly distributed resource as your video claims. As you mentioned, these would have to be placed in specific areas around the globe. Which brings me to:
    2) Global electricity production and supply under the control of very few countries (and many of them in the ME) would supposedly cause no geopolitical issues, there would be no conflicts for access or control and it won’t be used as leverage against less sunny countries, under any circumstances. Right…

    While the tech is very impressive, the whole video narrative gets very unrealistic in terms of “making the world a better place”. Just say it’s a new efficient and clean way for energy and leave it there.

  21. Um.. guys. You don't need AI to tell you where the sun is. The Earth & the Sun are in a fixed orbit. Some pretty simple formulas will tell you where the sun is, I'm pretty sure.

  22. This a good idea but oligarchs and corrupt businessmen will never like this.. No income for them.. They feed on oppression..

  23. Too many energy transformations and adaptations needed, it's inefficient. Newer batteries will store and later transcontinental superconducting cables will transport energy way more efficiently.

  24. Yeah, that would have been great idea in case they fall from sky. Tell me, how can you make them without actually using fossil in any way ?

  25. This project in Arizona( or Nevada?) Lost hundreds of millions and was obsolete before it was finished. So unless they can cut costs massively… this technology is not competitive from what I understand.

  26. His words are contradicting. He said he want more local power because he suffer the oil shortage, but only plans for 1000 tower in 5 different places. That's not local power in any way, and no single country will be willing to give up local power generation and rely on import only as that's one of the lifeline of a country.

  27. Hmmm. Building a "Death Ray" is going to PREVENT world war three ?
    And why the F Would you need AI to calculate positioning?
    Its just a Math exercise!

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