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Francisco Alvarez - Solar Power Tower

Updated: Dec 18, 2021

Meet Francisco Alvarez

Research and Development

Mechanical Engineer

Sandia National Laboratories

This Project: Focusing the sun's heat to make electricity

Francisco Alvarez wanted a job that would do something good for our planet. He wanted to work in many different fields of science. He wanted to read about and understand science news. He decided to become a mechanical engineer.

Francisco working on Sandia Labs' CSP system
Francisco working on Sandia Labs' CSP system

Today Francisco works on Concentrated Solar Power (CSP) research. This is different from the photovoltaic (PV) solar panels on buildings. PV panels use the sun’s light to create electricity. CSP uses mirrors to focus the sun’s heat on a tower. In many cases, the tower melts salt. That molten salt can be used to make superheated steam. The steam spins a turbine to make electricity. Even when the sun is not shining, the salt can make electricity. CSP projects are huge. They need a lot of space for mirrors. CSP makes electricity for a city.

“One of the most important skills I’ve learned is to be organized.”

Francisco loved playing with chemistry sets when he was a kid. He didn’t like sports much then. But today he loves to run and play other sports. Francisco says we change as we grow. Engineering knows that as an engineer he will be able to work on many different kinds of projects as he grows.

A MANOS student learns about fuel cells hands-on
A MANOS student learns about fuel cells hands-on

Francisco uses a lot of physics and math to research energy. He uses computer programming to solve problems. “One of the most important skills I’ve learned is to be organized. I use organizations skills to manage my work projects and my life.”

It was hard when he left for college and left behind his home and everything he knew. He had to pay his bills. He had to help his family. He had to work and study at the same time. It took commitment and organization to fit it all in.

All that work paid off. Francisco has a job he loves. He gets to travel on vacations. And he is always using his organization skills to plan his next vacation. Engineering has taught him how to keep learning and growing.

Photo Permissions

Profile photo of Francisco Alvarez: Permission by Francisco Alvarez

Photo of Francisco working on tower: Photo by Cliff Ho

Sandia's CSP Research Facility: Photo by Randy Montoya, courtesy of Sandia National Laboratories.

Photo of Francisco with MANOS student: Photo courtesy of Sandia National Laboratories

Read these books to learn more . . .


by Joanna Cole (Author) and Bruce Degan (Author/Illustrator)

This one is an oldie but a goodie. It doesn't talk about Concentrating Solar Power Towers, but it will explain what happens once you get a heat source of any kind, be it coal, CSP or uranium.

Ms. Frizzle's class learns how electric current travels through the town, lights up a light bulb, heats up a toaster, and runs an electric motor. It gives a simple and informative introduction to the generation and distribution of electricity.


Energy: 25 Projects Investigate Why We Need Power & How We Get It (Build It Yourself)

by Kathleen M. Reilly (Author), Mary Takacs-Moore )Illustrator)

Energy is a valuable resource that comes in many different forms. This book will help kids learn about the history and science of the world’s sources of energy, from nonrenewable fossil fuels such as coal, oil, and natural gas to renewable energy sources such as solar and wind power. Sidebars and fun trivia break up the text, making it easily accessible and engaging, while hands-on projects encourage active learning. Activities range from constructing a battery to recreating an oil spill to explore how difficult cleanup can be.


by Agnieszka Jozefina Biskup (Author) and Marcelo Baez (Illustrator)

Max Axiom has a mission. The National Space Agency wants to build a lunar colony, but it needs a team of top-notch engineers to get the job done. Join Max as he scours the globe to learn about incredible engineers and the amazing things they do.


. . . and check out these websites about CSP.


In case you don't believe that concentrated solar energy is hot, watch this video and read about the building that burned a jaguar car.

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