Rising out of the Andalusian countryside like a gigantic obelisk, a 40 story concrete tower surrounded by fields of photovoltaic panels is is the first stage of Europe’s first commercial solar power station , which recently went into operation in a sunny region outside Seville, Spain. The eye-popping spectacle bears more than a passing resemblance to Sauron’s Mordor Lighthouse in Lord of the Rings – only shiny, happy and sunny, rather than dark and fiery. Dumb analogies aside, there’s no way that our meager words do justice to the sheer awesomeness of the project, so you’ll just have to check out the photos and video below.

The first stage of the solar power station, known as PS10, is a 300ft tall tower surrounded by 624 solar panels which will produce enough energy to power 60,000 homes. There is also a secondary component, known as Sevilla PV, which is a photovoltaic power plant composed of 154 panels, which will generate enough electricity for about 1800 homes.

Here is how the tower works: the solar panels, a 120m2 mixture of mirrors and photovoltaics, track the sun throughout the year, reflect the energy of the sun to solar receptor at the top of the tower. Water passes through pipes at the top, and is heated enough to turn it into steam by the solar receptor, which in turn passes through a series of turbines to produce electricity.

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It is a sight to be seen. The area around the tower becomes so bright, that it actually illuminates the water vapor and dust that is in the air. It becomes necessary to wear sunglasses while you are there. Indeed, the image with the sunlight being thrown into the air? it’s not photoshoped.

This tower, while not a new technology (see CESA-1), is part of a series of projects whose final aim is to provide enough green energy for 180,000 homes, or most of the population of Seville. The final project, able to produce over 300MW, will include a series of towers, two more of which are being built, and standard photovoltaic power plants, as well as a mixture of newer parabolic solar collectors which will be installed at a later stage. The entire power plant will be operational by 2013. And here’s the most impressive part. The entire development, once it’s operational, will generate zero greenhouse gas emissions.

+ Plataforma solar de Abengoa (spanish)

+ Solucar

+ CESA-1

+ Power station harnesses Sun’s rays @ BBC