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Posts Tagged ‘Solar Thermal’

TODD WOODY, Green in the New York Times, August 25, 2010

California regulators on Wednesday approved a license for the nation’s first large-scale solar thermal power plant in two decades.

The licensing of the 250-megawatt Beacon Solar Energy Project after a two-and-a-half-year environmental review comes as several other big solar farms are set to receive approval from the California Energy Commission in the next month.

“I hope this is the first of many more large-scale solar projects we will permit,” said Jeffrey D. Byron, a member of the California Energy Commission, at a hearing in Sacramento on Wednesday. “This is exactly the type of project we want to see.”

Developers and regulators have been racing to license solar power plants and begin construction before the end of the year, when federal incentives for such renewable energy projects expire. California’s three investor-owned utilities also face a deadline to obtain 20% of their electricity from renewable sources by the end of 2010.

Still, it has been long slog as solar power plants planned for the Mojave Desert have become bogged down in disputes over their impact on protected wildlife and scarce water supplies.

In March 2008, NextEra Energy Resources filed an application to build the Beacon project on 2,012 acres of former farmland in Kern County. Long rows of mirrored parabolic troughs will focus sunlight on liquid-filled tubes to create steam that drives an electricity-generating turbine.

Some rural residents immediately objected to the 521 million gallons of groundwater the project would consume annually in an arid region on the western edge of the Mojave Desert. After contentious negotiations with regulators, NextEra agreed to use recycled water that will be piped in from a neighboring community.

“It’s been a lengthy process, an almost embarrassingly long lengthy process,” said Scott Busa, NextEra’s Beacon project manager, at Wednesday’s hearing. “Hopefully, we’re going from a lengthy process to a timely process.”

However, a lawyer for a union group that has been critical of Beacon told commissioners that obstacles still stood in the way of the power plant.

“Despite all the hard work that has been done, this project won’t get built anytime soon,” said Tanya Gulesserian, representing California Unions for Reliable Energy. She cited the absence of a deal to sell electricity from the Beacon power plant to a utility.

Mr. Busa responded that NextEra was in the final stages of negotiating a power purchase agreement.

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TODD WOODY, The New York Times, September 30, 2009

brightsourceIn a rural corner of Nevada reeling from the recession, a bit of salvation seemed to arrive last year. A German developer, Solar Millennium, announced plans to build two large solar farms here that would harness the sun to generate electricity, creating hundreds of jobs.

But then things got messy. The company revealed that its preferred method of cooling the power plants would consume 1.3 billion gallons of water a year, about 20% of this desert valley’s available water.

Now Solar Millennium finds itself in the midst of a new-age version of a Western water war. The public is divided, pitting some people who hope to make money selling water rights to the company against others concerned about the project’s impact on the community and the environment.

“I’m worried about my well and the wells of my neighbors,” George Tucker, a retired chemical engineer, said on a blazing afternoon.

Here is an inconvenient truth about renewable energy: It can sometimes demand a huge amount of water. Many of the proposed solutions to the nation’s energy problems, from certain types of solar farms to biofuel refineries to cleaner coal plants, could consume billions of gallons of water every year.

“When push comes to shove, water could become the real throttle on renewable energy,” said Michael E. Webber, an assistant professor at the University of Texas in Austin who studies the relationship between energy and water.

Conflicts over water could shape the future of many energy technologies. The most water-efficient renewable technologies are not necessarily the most economical, but water shortages could give them a competitive edge.

In California, solar developers have already been forced to switch to less water-intensive technologies when local officials have refused to turn on the tap. Other big solar projects are mired in disputes with state regulators over water consumption.

To date, the flashpoint for such conflicts has been the Southwest, where dozens of multibillion-dollar solar power plants are planned for thousands of acres of desert. While most forms of energy production consume water, its availability is especially limited in the sunny areas that are otherwise well suited for solar farms.

At public hearings from Albuquerque to San Luis Obispo, Calif., local residents have sounded alarms over the impact that this industrialization will have on wildlife, their desert solitude and, most of all, their water.

Joni Eastley, chairwoman of the county commission in Nye County, Nev., which includes Amargosa Valley, said at one hearing that her area had been “inundated” with requests from renewable energy developers that “far exceed the amount of available water.”

Many projects involve building solar thermal plants, which use cheaper technology than the solar panels often seen on roofs. In such plants, mirrors heat a liquid to create steam that drives an electricity-generating turbine. As in a fossil fuel power plant, that steam must be condensed back to water and cooled for reuse.

The conventional method is called wet cooling. Hot water flows through a cooling tower where the excess heat evaporates along with some of the water, which must be replenished constantly. An alternative, dry cooling, uses fans and heat exchangers, much like a car’s radiator. Far less water is consumed, but dry cooling adds costs and reduces efficiency — and profits.

The efficiency problem is especially acute with the most tried-and-proven technique, using mirrors arrayed in long troughs. “Trough technology has been more financeable, but now trough presents a separate risk — water,” said Nathaniel Bullard, a solar analyst with New Energy Finance, a London research firm.

That could provide opportunities for developers of photovoltaic power plants, which take the type of solar panels found on residential rooftops and mount them on the ground in huge arrays. They are typically more expensive and less efficient than solar thermal farms but require a relatively small amount of water, mainly to wash the panels.

In California alone, plans are under way for 35 large-scale solar projects that, in bright sunshine, would generate 12,000 megawatts of electricity, equal to the output of about 10 nuclear power plants.

Their water use would vary widely. BrightSource Energy’s dry-cooled Ivanpah project in Southern California would consume an estimated 25 million gallons a year, mainly to wash mirrors. But a wet-cooled solar trough power plant barely half Ivanpah’s size proposed by the Spanish developer Abengoa Solar would draw 705 million gallons of water in an area of the Mojave Desert that receives scant rainfall.

One of the most contentious disputes is over a proposed wet-cooled trough plant that NextEra Energy Resources, a subsidiary of the utility giant FPL Group, plans to build in a dry area east of Bakersfield, Calif.

NextEra wants to tap freshwater wells to supply the 521 million gallons of cooling water the plant, the Beacon Solar Energy Project, would consume in a year, despite a state policy against the use of drinking-quality water for power plant cooling.

Mike Edminston, a city council member from nearby California City, warned at a hearing that groundwater recharge was already “not keeping up with the utilization we have.”

The fight over water has moved into the California Legislature, where a bill has been introduced to allow renewable energy power plants to use drinking water for cooling if certain conditions are met.

“By allowing projects to use fresh water, the bill would remove any incentives that developers have to use technologies that minimize water use,” said Terry O’Brien, a California Energy Commission deputy director.

NextEra has resisted using dry cooling but is considering the feasibility of piping in reclaimed water. “At some point if costs are just layered on, a project becomes uncompetitive,” said Michael O’Sullivan, a senior vice president at NextEra.

Water disputes forced Solar Millennium to abandon wet cooling for a proposed solar trough power plant in Ridgecrest, Calif., after the water district refused to supply the 815 million gallons of water a year the project would need. The company subsequently proposed to dry cool two other massive Southern California solar trough farms it wants to build in the Mojave Desert.

“We will not do any wet cooling in California,” said Rainer Aringhoff, president of Solar Millennium’s American operations. “There are simply no plants being permitted here with wet cooling.”

One solar developer, BrightSource Energy, hopes to capitalize on the water problem with a technology that focuses mirrors on a tower, producing higher-temperature steam than trough systems. The system can use dry cooling without suffering a prohibitive decline in power output, said Tom Doyle, an executive vice president at BrightSource.

The greater water efficiency was one factor that led VantagePoint Venture Partners, a Silicon Valley venture capital firm, to invest in BrightSource. “Our approach is high sensitivity to water use,” said Alan E. Salzman, VantagePoint’s chief executive. “We thought that was going to be huge differentiator.”

Even solar projects with low water consumption face hurdles, however. Tessera Solar is planning a large project in the California desert that would use only 12 million gallons annually, mostly to wash mirrors. But because it would draw upon a severely depleted aquifer, Tessera may have to buy rights to 10 times that amount of water and then retire the pumping rights to the water it does not use. For a second big solar farm, Tessera has agreed to fund improvements to a local irrigation district in exchange for access to reclaimed water.

“We have a challenge in finding water even though we’re low water use,” said Sean Gallagher, a Tessera executive. “It forces you to do some creative deals.”

In the Amargosa Valley, Solar Millennium may have to negotiate access to water with scores of individuals and companies who own the right to stick a straw in the aquifer, so to speak, and withdraw a prescribed amount of water each year.

“There are a lot of people out here for whom their water rights are their life savings, their retirement,” said Ed Goedhart, a local farmer and state legislator, as he drove past pockets of sun-beaten mobile homes and luminescent patches of irrigated alfalfa. Farmers will be growing less of the crop, he said, if they decide to sell their water rights to Solar Millennium.

“We’ll be growing megawatts instead of alfalfa,” Mr. Goedhart said.

While water is particularly scarce in the West, it is becoming a problem all over the country as the population grows. Daniel M. Kammen, director of the Renewable and Appropriate Energy Laboratory at the University of California, Berkeley, predicted that as intensive renewable energy development spreads, water issues will follow.

“When we start getting 20%, 30% or 40% of our power from renewables,” Mr. Kammen said, “water will be a key issue.”

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Joseph Romm, ClimateProgress, June 22, 2009

cathy-zoiOn June 19th, the United States Senate, by voice vote, confirmed Cathy Zoi to be the Assistant Secretary for Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy.

Cathy Zoi, CEO of Al Gore’s Alliance for Climate Protection, will now serve as Assistant Secretary for Energy Efficiency & Renewable Energy (EERE) under Energy Secretary Steven Chu.

Zoi has a unique combination of expertise in clean energy and high level federal government experience — she was Chief of Staff in the Clinton White House Office on Environmental Policy, managing the staff working on environmental and energy issues (recent writing below). Since I have known Zoi for nearly 2 decades and since in 1997 I held the job she is now nominated for, I can personally attest she will be able to hit the ground running in the crucial job of overseeing the vast majority of the development and deployment of plausible climate solutions technology.

What does EERE do? You could spend hours on their website, here, exploring everything they are into. Of the 12 to 14 most plausible wedges the world needs to stabilize at 350 to 450 ppm — the full global warming solution — EERE is the principal federal agency for working with businesses to develop and deploy the technology for 11 of them!

The stimulus and the 2009 budget dramatically increases — more than doubles — EERE funding for technology development and deployment. Zoi’s most important job is deployment, deployment, deployment. And again she is a uniquely qualified to get clean energy into the marketplace. Zoi was a manager at the US Environmental Protection Agency where “she pioneered the Energy Star Program,” which was the pioneering energy efficiency deployment program launched in the early 1990s.

So we know Zoi gets energy efficiency. Here’s what she wrote last year about “Embracing the Challenge to Repower America“:

Many Americans have a hard time thinking about our energy future, largely because their energy present is so challenging. With gasoline prices hovering near $4 per gallon and rising energy bills at home and at work, our economy is struggling with the burden of imported oil and reliance on fossil fuels. The need to satisfy the nation’s oil appetite has shaped our foreign and defense postures, and is a primary reason for our current entanglements overseas. Extreme weather here in the U.S. has us feeling uneasy. And the scientists remind us more urgently every week about the mounting manifestations of the climate crisis.

To solve these problems, we must repower our economy. Fast.

Vice President Gore has issued a challenge for us to do just that: Generate 100% of America’s electricity from truly clean sources that do not contribute to global warming — and do so within 10 years. It is an ambitious but attainable goal. American workers, businesses and families are up to it.

Meeting the challenge to repower America will deliver the affordability, stability and confidence our economy needs, as well as a healthy environment. And it will generate millions of good American jobs that can’t be outsourced.

It will involve simultaneous work on three fronts. First, get the most out of the energy we currently produce. Second, quickly deploy the clean energy technologies that we already know can work. Third, create a new integrated electricity grid to deliver power from where it is generated to where people live.

The first front involves energy efficiency. The potential here is vast and largely untapped. Now is the time to begin a comprehensive national energy upgrade that will reduce the energy bills of homeowners and businesses — even as costs of energy supplies may be on the rise.

The second front requires expanding the use of existing generation technologies. This will include accelerated growth in our wind energy industry. We have a strong running start — the U.S. was the leading installer of wind technology last year. Texas oilman T. Boone Pickens says we can get at least 20 percent of America’s electricity from wind power. We think he’s right.

Solar thermal power is also booming and poised for rapid acceleration. The resource potential is so vast that a series of collectors in the American southwest totaling just 92 miles on a side could power our entire electricity system. Utilities in Arizona, Nevada, and California have already begun to tap this potential, with plans for powering nearly one million homes underway.

Advances in thermal storage technologies, along with investments in our grid, mean that solar thermal power will be able to provide electricity at night, like coal power does today.

Nuclear and hydroelectric power facilities currently combine to contribute roughly 25% of America’s electricity. That will continue. Coal and natural gas can also play a significant role by capturing and storing their carbon emissions safely. Our hope is that this CCS emissions technology can be developed and commercialized quickly. Without it, coal isn’t “clean.” There are reportedly a few CCS plants now proposed in the U.S., although another roughly 70 proposed coal plants have no such plans to capture their carbon pollution.

The third front is the creation of a unified national electricity grid. A “super smart grid” will form the backbone and the entire skeleton of our modern power system. Efficient high voltage lines will move power from remote, resource-rich areas to places where power is consumed.

It will also allow households to make money by automatically using energy at the cheapest times and selling electricity back to the grid when a surplus is available can. A smart meter spins both ways.

Meeting this 100% clean power challenge will require a one-time capital investment in new infrastructure, with the bulk of funding coming from private finance. If policies reward reducing global warming pollution, private capital will flow towards clean energy solutions.

But the most important cost figures to consider may be the ones we’ll avoid. American utilities will spend roughly $100 billion this year on coal and natural gas to fuel power plants. And more next year and the year after that — until we make the switch to renewable fuels that are free and limitless.

The 10-year time frame is key.

The science, the economic pressures and our national security concerns demand swift, concerted action. The best climate scientists tell us we must make rapid progress to turn the corner on global carbon emissions or the ecological consequences will be irreversible.

The solutions are available now — there are no technology or material impediments. Failing to move swiftly will deprive the U.S. economy of earnings from one of the fastest growing technology sectors in the world.

We’ve done this before. We mobilized the auto industry in 12 months to service the hardware needs of WWII. The Marshall Plan to reconstruct Europe was executed in four years. And as Vice President Gore pointed out, we reached the moon in eight years, not ten.

We can do this. With support from the American people and leadership from elected officials, America can accept the challenge of building a safe, secure and sustainable energy future.”

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UCILLA WANG, The Greentech Innovations Report, June 9, 2009

sunpowerWhen Pacific Gas and Electric Co. announced a deal to buy solar power from a proposed 230-megawatt project last Friday, it shone a spotlight on a two-year-old company with a different business model than many startups who have inked similar deals with the utility.

The deal also raised the question: Who is NextLight?

NextLight Renewable Power, based in San Francisco, wants to be purely a power plant developer and owner. The deal with PG&E is the first power purchase agreement for the startup, which is funded by private equity firm Energy Capital Partners, said Jim Woodruff, vice president of regulatory and government affairs, in an interview Monday.

“We think the tech agnostic approach is a winning business model,” Woodruff said. “All the core skills that are necessary to develop power projects are the same” for solar or other types of power plants.

The company boasts managers who have experience developing power plants and transmission projects as well as negotiating renewable power purchases.

NextLight’s CEO, Frank De Rosa, worked for PG&E for 23 years and held various roles at the utility, including the director of renewable energy supply, before founding NextLight in 2007. Woodruff worked for Southern California Edison for more than 10 years, first as an in-house counsel and later as the manager of regulatory and legislative issues for the utility’s alternative power business.

NextLight has been developing other solar power projects on public and private land in western states, including a plan to install up to 150 megawatts of generation capacity in Boulder City, Nevada.

The Boulder City Council is slated to vote on whether to lease 1,100 acres of city land to NextLight tonight. The company would sell 3,000-megawatt hours of energy per year to the city if the project is built, Woodruff said.

PG&E signed the deal with NextLight after it had inked many power purchase agreements in recent years to buy solar power from startup companies with the ambition to both develop their own technologies as well as owning and operating solar farms.

Some of the projects seem to be moving along. A few have hit snags. The deal to buy power from Finavera, an ocean power developer in Canada, fell apart last year when the California Public Utilities Commission decided that the contract would be too costly to ratepayers (see California Rejects PG&E Contract for Wave Energy).

OptiSolar, which was supposed to build a 550-megawatt solar farm to sell power to PG&E, couldn’t raise enough money to operate its solar panel factory and develop solar farms.

First Solar, another solar panel maker based in Tempe, Ariz., bought OptiSolar’s project development business for $400 million in April this year. First Solar would use its own, cadmium-telluride solar panels, instead of the amorphous silicon solar panels OptiSolar was developing. PG&E has said that the power contract would remain in place.

NextLight, on the other hand, would pick different solar technologies instead of developing its own. The approach isn’t new – SunEdison was doing this before others joined the party.

But there is no guarantee that this approach would enable NextLight to deliver energy more cheaply, and neither NextLight nor PG&E would discuss the financial terms of their contract.

“Our priority is about diversification of the resources we use and the companies we work with,” said PG&E spokeswoman Jennifer Zerwer. “Contracting for renewable via [power purchase agreements] is beneficial because it helps grow that ecosystem of renewable development, and there is no risk to our customers.”

Rumors have been circulating about whether NextLight would use SunPower’s equipment for the 230-megawatt project, which is called AV Solar Ranch 1, particularly since the project’s website features a photo of SunPower panels.

Woodruff said NextLight hasn’t selected a panel supplier. The company and PG&E have agreed to use solar panels, but the utility wouldn’t have a final say on the supplier, Woodruff added.

Gordon Johnson, head of alternative energy research at Hapoalim Securities, also cast doubt on the SunPower rumor.  “Based on our checks, we do not believe [SunPower] won the PPA with NextLight,” Johnson wrote in a research note.

NextLight plans to start construction of the AV Solar Ranch project in the third quarter of 2010 and complete it by 2013. The company said it would start delivering power in 2011.

The project would be located on 2,100 acres in Antelope Valley in Los Angeles County, Woodruff said. The company bought the property last year for an undisclosed sum.

The company would need approval from the Los Angeles County to construct the solar farm. The California Public Utilities Commission would need to approve the power purchase contract between PG&E and NextLight.

NextLight also is developing a power project with up to 425 megawatts in generation capacity in southern Arizona.  The company is negotiating to a farmland for the Agua Caliente Solar Project, Woodruff said. The 3,800 acres are located east of the city of Yuma.

The company is negotiating with a utility to buy power from Agua Caliente, said Woodruff, who declined to name the utility.

NextLight hasn’t decided whether to install solar panels or build a solar thermal power plant for the Agua Caliente project. Solar thermal power plants use mirrors to concentrate the sunlight for heating water or mineral oils to generate steam. The steam is then piped to run electricity-generating turbines.

But solar panels appear to be a more attractive option than solar thermal for now, Woodruff said.

“We’ve concluded that, in the near term, PV is more cost effective,” he said.

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MendoCoastCurrent, May 20, 2009

Mendocino-Energy-Mill-SiteAt this core energy technology incubator, energy policy is created as renewable energy technologies and science move swiftly from white boards and white papers to testing, refinement and implementation.

The Vision

Mendocino Energy is located on the Mendocino coast, three plus hours north of San Francisco/Silicon Valley. On the waterfront of Fort Bragg, utilizing a portion of the now-defunct Georgia-Pacific Mill Site to innovate in best practices, cost-efficient, safe renewable and sustainable energy development – wind, wave, solar, bioremediation, green-ag/algae, smart grid and grid technologies, et al.

The process is collaborative in creating, identifying and engineering optimum, commercial-scale, sustainable, renewable energy solutions…with acumen.

Start-ups, utilities companies, universities (e.g. Precourt Institute for Energy at Stanford), EPRI, the federal government (FERC, DOE, DOI) and the world’s greatest minds gathering at this fast-tracked, unique coming-together of a green work force and the U.S. government, creating responsible, safe renewable energy technologies to quickly identify best commercialization candidates and build-outs.

The campus is quickly constructed on healthy areas of the Mill Site as in the past, this waterfront, 400+ acre industry created contaminated areas where mushroom bioremediation is underway.

Determining best sitings for projects in solar thermal, wind turbines and mills, algae farming, bioremediation; taking the important first steps towards establishing U.S. leadership in renewable energy and the global green economy.

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TRACY SEIPEL, MercuryNews.com, May 15, 2009

brightsourceDeclaring it a record total, PG&E on Wednesday announced an expansion of solar-power contracts with Oakland’s BrightSource Energy for a total of 1,310 megawatts of electricity — enough to power 530,000 California homes.

The power purchase agreements, which will now include seven power plants, add to a previous contract the two companies struck in April 2008 for up to 900 megawatts of solar thermal power.

BrightSource called it the largest solar deal ever. The company now has 2,610 megawatts under contract, which it said is more than any other solar thermal company and represents more than 40 percent of all large-scale solar thermal contracts in the United States.

“The solar thermal projects announced today exemplify PG&E’s commitment to increasing the amount of renewable energy we provide to our customers throughout Northern and central California,” John Conway, senior vice president of energy supply for PG&E, said in a statement. “Through these agreements with BrightSource, we can harness the sun’s energy to meet our customers’ power requirements when they need it most — during hot summer days.”

John Woolard, chief executive of BrightSource Energy, said the additional contracts came about after BrightSource demonstrated its technology in Israel with results that were “at or above all the specifications. It proved to them that our technology works,” Woolard said. “They saw us executing and delivering” efficient production of solar energy.

BrightSource, which designs, builds and operates solar thermal plants, will construct the plants at a cost of at least $3 billion in the southwestern deserts of California, Nevada and Arizona. The company anticipates the first plant, a 110-megawatt facility at Ivanpah in eastern San Bernardino County, to begin operation by 2012.

Its technology uses sunlight reflected from thousands of movable mirrors to boil water to make steam. The steam then drives a turbine to generate electricity. BrightSource founder and Chairman Arnold Goldman’s previous company, Luz International, built nine solar plants in the Mojave Desert between 1984 and 1990, all of which are still operating.

In March, BrightSource reached an agreement with Southern California Edison to purchase 1,300 megawatts, then the largest solar contract ever, BrightSource said.

Investor-owned California utilities such as PG&E are required to get 20% of their power from renewable sources by 2010, or to by then have contracts for power from projects that go online by 2013. PG&E already has contracts in hand that exceed that 20% goal.  PG&E generates 12% of its energy from renewable sources now, and expects that to increase to 14% by the end of the year.

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NANEA KALANI, Pacific Business News, January 12, 2009

217835-0-0-1Honolulu-based Sopogy announced last week that it will build a 50-megawatt system in Toledo, Spain, using its proprietary technology in partnership with a German energy financier and a Spanish project developer. The system could generate enough electricity to power 15,000 homes.

Sopogy founder and CEO Darren Kimura said the Spanish project, expected to be completed by the end of 2010 and cost about $300 million, is part of the company’s plans to expand its presence abroad as the U.S. financial market wanes.

“For about a year now, Sopogy has felt that it’s necessary to diversify and become more global,” Kimura told PBN. “Because our technology offers higher production and lower capital costs, we’re looking for sites where our technology has the best value, and the best value today lies in the European market.”

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PAUL GIPE, RenewableEnergyWorld.com, December 4, 2008

Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa announced to much fanfare on November 24 that the city’s municipal utility would launch one of the continent’s largest solar power programs. The mayor’s plan would direct the city’s municipal utility, the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power (LADWP), to build or purchase 1,300 MW of solar energy by 2020.

Interestingly, it was a municipal utility that launched the modern version of Germany’s famed feed-in tariffs.

Among provisions of the plan is a feed-in tariff for 150 MW of solar photovoltaics by 2016. This is the first official announcement of a feed-in tariff proposal by a California city, but it is not the first in the United States. Gainesville, Florida previously announced that it was formally considering a feed-in tariff to replace its solar rebate program.

Recently, the Palm Springs Desert Sun reported that Palm Desert, California was also considering solar feed-in tariffs after city officials toured Spain, one of the world’s leading developers of solar energy. Spain uses feed-in tariffs.

LADWP is the continent’s largest municipal utility. It was briefly at the forefront of solar energy development in California from 1999 to 2003, before inexplicably abandoning its program.

The city and LADWP provided no details on the solar feed-in tariff or on the other renewable energy proposals that were part of the mayor’s press release. There were no further details on LADWP’s web site. Photos of wind turbines on the web site were standard stock photos and all were of wind turbines outside the utility’s service area.

LADWP claims that 8.5% of its electricity currently comes from renewables and that the utility is on track to meet its 20% target by 2010. The last report on the utility’s web site about its renewable energy program, however, is dated 2003, the year the utility canceled its successful solar program.

Los Angeles’ 120 MW Pine Tree wind project is slated to come on line in 2009. The project also is outside of the Los Angeles Basin, just north of the Tehachapi Wind Resource Area.

Interestingly, it was a municipal utility that launched the modern version of Germany’s famed feed-in tariffs. Aachen introduced the first solar-specific feed-in tariff in the mid-1990s. Subsequently other German cities followed suit. In 2000 Germany’s parliament incorporated the concept behind Aachen’s policy in its groundbreaking system of Advanced Renewable Tariffs.

Municipal utilities in the Americas may be able to emulate Aachen and be the first to launch true feed-in tariffs. Because municipal utilities are governed by city officials, they can be more responsive to public demands for action on renewable energy than the often more distant state or provincial legislatures.

Tortonto Hydro, North America’s second largest and Canada’s largest municipal utility, briefly considered a solar PV feed-in tariff in 2007, but took no action. The proposal before Toronto Hydro employed a differentiated feed-in tariff that was intended to work with the province of Ontario’s Standard Offer Contract Program.

The proposal of Gainsville Regional Utilities (GRU) is the most advanced in the United States. GRU’s commission has ordered preparation of a tariff.

In contrast to Gainesville’s approach, LADWP made public little or no information on the details of its proposal. GRU prepared a detailed report which it presented to Gainesville’s utility commission when the utility went public with its proposal.

Los Angeles incorporates Hollywood within its city boundaries and there’s always an element of showmanship in its pronouncements. The city’s proposal is aggressive, more than one-third of the California Solar Initiative’s 3,000 MW of solar PV, if it is more than simply aspirational.

The portion of the plan devoted to a feed-in tariff is about one-tenth of the entire program. Countries that have been the most successful at rapidly developing renewable energy (Germany, France, and Spain) use feed-in tariffs as the principal if not only policy mechanism.

Despite the uncritical media accounts of the “world’s most ambitious solar plan,” attention has focused not only on the targets, but also on the various mechanisms that may be used to reach those targets, including feed-in tariffs.

Regardless of how or even whether it follows through, Los Angeles, as one of North America’s largest cities, has put feed-in tariffs, at least for solar, on the continent’s public policy map.

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CAROL CAMPBELL & RODRICK MUKUMBIRA, Science & Development Network, August 11, 2008

A huge solar energy tower has been proposed to boost the electricity grid in Namibia, South Africa.

At one and a half kilometres high and 280 metres wide — bigger than two soccer fields back-to-back — the tower could provide electricity for the whole of the Namibian capital Windhoek.

But neither a date nor a site for the proposed tower has been confirmed, though it is expected to be close to Windhoek, says South African mechanical engineer Alan Dunlop from the pan-African intellectual property firm Hahn & Hahn, which is involved in the project.

The operation of a solar tower involves heating air inside a vast transparent tent, several kilometres in diameter, at the base of the tower. This hot air rises inside a tall concrete chimney, driving wind turbines linked to generators. The tent can also be used to grow crops.

The proposed tower is about three times larger than anything similar on earth and though its running costs would be low, construction would cost at least US$900 million.

“One of the main reasons why commercial solar chimney power plants have not been built is that they have to be very large to be economically viable,” says Theo von Backström from the Department of Mechanical and Mechatronic Engineering at South Africa’s Stellenbosch University.

Engineers at the university say their research — including a dozen journal papers and 14 conference papers — indicates that a large-scale tower is possible.

It has also been shown that solar chimney power plants can produce power at night. The water used for crops is heated during sunny weather and this heat is released back into the air during the night or during cloudy weather to keep the turbines going. No extra water is required — an important issue for a desert country such as Namibia.

Pretoria-based physicist Wolf-Walter Stinnes, the brains behind the Namibian tower, worked on a pre-feasibility study for a similar solar chimney in South Africa’s Kalahari desert up until 2000.

Stinnes said the project was dropped because its power was too expensive compared with coal power.

But given the price of oil and the issues raised by climate change, there has been renewed interest in solar chimneys in countries such as Australia, Egypt, India and Morocco.

According to a report in Engineering News, the Namibian government has agreed to cover half the costs of the US$780,000 pre-feasibility report once private funding has been obtained.

But Joseph Iita, Namibia’s permanent secretary for the Ministry of Mines and Energy, warns: “We are only prepared to work with serious investors and, despite so many investors showing interest in the field of energy generation, we haven’t seen any project taking off.”

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MendoCoastCurrent, September 18, 2008

EnviroMission’s Solar Tower technology is focused on large-scale, clean, green renewable energy generation from the world’s first 200MW solar thermal power station.

One 200MW power station will provide enough electricity to around 200,000 typical Australian households and abates over 900,000 tonnes of greenhouse producing gases from entering the environment annually.

The monolithic scale of the project may also add value to the construction of the power station through tourism and associated economic benefits.

The prototype Solar Tower has been tested and proven with a small-scale pilot project in Manzanares, Spain, as a result of collaboration between the Spanish government and German designers, Schlaich Bergermann and Partner.

It even operated for seven years between 1982 and 1989, and consistently generated 50kW output of green energy, proving the concepts works as well as providing data for design modifications to achieve greater commercial and economic benefits associated with an increased scale of economy.

Where Next?

After an extensive search, EnviroMission selected the site for the world’s first Solar Tower power station to be built in the Buronga district of the Wentworth Shire in NSW and 25km NE of Mildura in Victoria, Australia.  The proposed site shows EnviroMission’s commitment to the Australia’s Sunraysia Region of NSW and Victoria. The project still requires planning approval codes, regulations and legislation from Australia’s State and Local Governments.

Background on the Solar Tower and the Market in Australia

Formerly referred to as Solar Chimney technology in academic literature – the Solar Tower is now marketed without the reference to chimney (to avoid confusion with the pollution associated with chimneys – this technology is emission free) – the Solar Tower has had in excess of A$35 million and 20 years of research and development invested in it.  EnviroMission believe that now, more than ever before, the time is ideal to apply this technology.

For more than 100 years it has been relatively cheap, environmentally unaccountable and simple to dig up coal as a fuel source to produce electricity. With concerns over climate change and increasing need for clean, renewable energy solutions account for still less than 10% of all electricity generated in Australia.

Community concern about Australia’s over reliance on coal-based ‘black’ and ‘brown’ energy and the negative impact on the environment has helped to drive political change. There is now a legislated market for clean, green renewable energy, legislated as a Mandated Renewable Energy Target (9500 gWh annual renewable energy target by 2010) has opened the way for investment in new approaches to renewable energy generation.  This recent incentive is important to the growth of renewable energy development including Solar Tower technology.

A further political incentive in the form of the Renewable Energy Credit (REC) developed by the Australian Government in 2001 has encouraged new investment in renewable energy development, with the purpose of reducing greenhouse gases and increasing the amount of renewable energy output.

As new materials, construction methods and government policy are now available to the extent that there is environmental, social and commercial advantage in the development of Solar Tower technology.

EnviroMission claims that each 200MW solar thermal power station will abate over 900,000 tonnes of carbon dioxide from entering the environment annually. The Solar Tower technology will help Australia meet its Kyoto obligations, provide a bonus to the environment, and will be a major producer of scaleable renewable energy with flow on benefits to the community and our investors.

Terms of Recent Deal with SMT

Following the mutual termination of the 2007 merger proposal between EnviroMission Limited with SolarMission Technologies, Inc (SMT), EnviroMission and SMT have continued to explore alternative corporate actions and structures to facilitate the shared ambition and vision for the long-term Solar Tower development.

As a result, EnviroMission implemented an acquisition model to leverage off the advantage of its public listing, providing the inducement of listing liquidity to SMT common share and warrant holders under the terms of a Stock Exchange Offer, with the aim of securing at least majority control of SMT.

In the weeks leading up to the close of the Stock Exchange Offer (August 1, 2008), EnviroMission negotiated a license agreement with SMT to confirm the strategic intent of the acquisition and ensure the licence also contained sufficient commercial terms to provide equity to all SMT security holders, including security holders that may decline the EnviroMission Stock Exchange Offer. EnviroMission’s license agreement with SMT takes effect from July 31, 2008 to secure the global SolarTower development license in all markets, excluding China.

EnviroMission will issue 5,000,000 (five million) ordinary free trading shares to SMT as an equity consideration for the global Solar Tower license (excluding China), with additional ‘commercial in confidence’ provisions to satisfy the immediate and equitable assignment of the Solar Tower license to EnviroMission; subject also to EnviroMission shareholder approval of the Stock Exchange Offer to SMT.

Commercial terms are based on development milestones to provide an ongoing equity opportunity to SMT (EnviroMission anticipates owning 58.92% of SMT subject to shareholder approval). On this basis, EnviroMission has negotiated an agreement assigning the global Solar Tower license to EnviroMission.

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Green Energy News, June 10, 2008

Whether it’s John McCain or Barack Obama who moves into the Oval Office next January he’ll have have a deskful of problems to cope with: the biggest foreign policy blunder in the nation’s history, a lackluster economy, and what appears to be a peaking of the world’s oil supply.

All of which are related, of course.

As ominous as those problems may seem there’s a bright side: The new president will have a growing and vibrant industry — the green energy industry — on his side that may very well help solve those three problems.

Oil is about fuels for transportation. Peak oil, if that’s what the planet is now beginning to experience, is about fuel being too expensive to get us from here to there at a reasonable cost. Though trying to convince automakers to build more efficient cars and trucks has been an ongoing battle for decades, high priced fuel has forced at least one automaker’s hand.

The news this week that GM would shut four truck and SUV factories and pursue more efficient vehicles, like the hyper-efficient Chevrolet Volt, was a final recognition by the world’s largest automaker that they need to change. Now that GM is on board, the trend towards highly energy efficient vehicles that began with the hybrids from Japan should continue at a brisker pace. Further, perhaps with a little help from the next occupant of the White House, the push for more efficient vehicles could lead to a renaissance — a green renaissance — for Detroit.

In a speech in Des Moines, Iowa, in October 2007 Obama said this,” I went to Detroit, I stood in front of a group of automakers, and I told them that when I am president, there will be no more excuses — we will help them retool their factories, but they will have to make cars that use less oil.”

Perhaps the automakers should take him up on his word.

John McCain wants to create a cap and trade system to cut greenhouse gas emissions that would encompass transportation fuels and to “reform federal government research funding and infrastructure to support the cap and trade emissions reduction goals and emphasize the commercialization of low-carbon technologies.”

(Obama also supports cap and trade policies.)

A reduction in greenhouse gas emissions from cars and trucks also means better conventional fuel economy and/or a switch to alternative fuels. (The temporary suspension of the federal gasoline tax as a way to ease the pain at the pump, supported by McCain, has already been shelved by Congress.)

In coping with a sluggish economy green energies are clearly the next big thing.

The vast central part of the country is ripe for wind energy development. Nearly all the world’s major wind turbine manufacturers have already or are planning to build production facilities on US soil. The huge cost of shipping makes it cheaper to build the massive machines here than overseas.

The desert southwest is just gearing up for a wave of concentrating solar thermal power plants. Plans to build components for solar thermal power plants here are also underway. Solar thermal power, though proven for years, is, as an industry, just taking baby steps.

Biofuels, if they are to be the future of fuels for transportation, are gaining traction again as interest grows with algae as a source of diesel fuel and cellulose as feedstock for ethanol. The brewing of biodiesel and cellulosic ethanol are most certainly to be domestic enterprises that will help the economy.

Again cap and trade ideas would help these industries. Obama adds more ideas among them to “Invest $150 billion over 10 Years in Clean Energy”; “Invest in a Skilled Clean Technologies Workforce”, start a “Clean Technologies Deployment Venture Capital Fund” and “Convert our Manufacturing Centers into Clean Technology Leaders.”

Hyper-efficient cars, biofuels, wind and solar power and other green technologies could repair an ailing economy and dampen the worst effects of high oil prices related to peak oil. But what about Iraq? Can green energies help out there too? Perhaps.

Much of the Iraq’s troubles are related to high unemployment. Yet to their south in the Persian Gulf region at least one state is using what remains of its oil wealth to pursue sustainable technologies and the industries and jobs that will follow. The Masdar Initiative in the emirate of Abu Dhabi in the United Arab Emirates is that example.

The objectives of Masdar are to position Abu Dhabi as a world-class research and development hub for new sustainable energy technologies and drive the commercialization and adoption of these and other technologies. Commercialization and adoption means jobs and opportunity, just what Iraq needs. The next president could encourage Iraqis only to look around in the neighborhood to see what is possible for their nation.

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TODD WOODY, Green Wombat, June 3, 2008

eSolar, the solar energy startup founded by Idealab’s Bill Gross and backed by Google, has signed a 20-year contract to supply utility Southern California Edison with 245 megawatts of green electricity.

The solar power plant will be built in 35-megawatt modules, with the first phase set to go online in 2011. As Green Wombat reported in April, eSolar scored $130 million in funding from Google.org, Google’s philanthropic arm, and other investors to develop solar thermal technology that Gross claims will produce electricity as cheaply as coal-fired power plants.

Like Ausra and BrightSource Energy – which have deals with PG&E – eSolar will use fields of mirrors to heat water to create steam that drives electricity-generating turbines. Gross says that eSolar’s software allows the company to individually control smaller sun-tracking mirrors – called heliostats – which can be cheaply manufactured and which are more efficient and take up less land than conventional mirrors. According to Gross, that means eSolar can build modular power plants near urban areas and transmission lines rather than out in the desert, lowering costs.

eSolar’s cost claims got Southern California Edison’s attention. “It was a competitively priced proposal,” Stuart Hemphill, the utility’s VP for renewable and alternative power, told Fortune. “We found the eSolar team very competent, motivated and willing to do a deal.”

“When it comes down to different solar technologies, competitive pricing is going to be an important part of the equation,” he adds. “They do offer a unique solution.”

eSolar is keeping mum about the exact location of the power plant, only saying it will be in the Antelope Valley region of Southern California.

One potential hitch: Getting eSolar’s electricity to Southern California Edison will depend on the construction of a major new transmission line. That line, the Tehachapi Renewable Transmission Project, has been partially approved to date.

With the eSolar deal, the utility is hedging its bets. Back in 2005, Southern California Edison signed a highly publicized deal with Phoenix’s Stirling Energy Systems to buy up to 850 megawatts of solar electricity from massive solar power plants to be built in the Mojave Desert. (Around the same time, San Diego Gas & Electric signed a power purchase agreement with Stirling for up to 900 megawatts. ) Stirling is still perfecting its technology and has yet to file a license application for its first plant. But the company received a $100 million investment earlier this year and Hemphill says Stirling is moving forward.

“We expect that Stirling will meet its contractural obligations,” he says. “Solar thermal is definitely an emerging industry. It’s too early to tell which technologies will be the winners over the long run. It’s a time to be having a portfolio of different technologies so we can figure that out.”

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WILLIAM PENTLAND, Forbes.com, April 30, 2008

The Middle East is hardly known as the capital of clean energy, but Bahrain and the United Arab Emirates are trying to change that.

A few weeks ago, 100-foot-wide propellers began turning on the recently completed World Trade Center building, making Bahrain home to the world’s first building-integrated wind turbine skyscraper. The building includes two sail-shaped towers that climb 54 floors above the beachfront site. Three small bridges link the towers, with a massive wind turbine hanging from each. The towers funnel the ocean winds into the turbines, which generate more than 10% of the energy used by the building.

As climate change and renewable-energy policies level the playing field in the energy industry, alternative-energy companies are racing to assure investors, policymakers and the public that they can scale to meet the needs of energy-starved consumers. During the last few years, a clutch of clean energy projects have emerged on a scale never seen before. Forbes.com has identified the biggest and boldest projects among them.

We surveyed the clean energy landscape for new and recently completed projects in solar, wind, geothermal and wave energy that produced the most grid-connected electricity. Forbes.com also identified the green government initiative and green building project with the highest estimated dollar value. The results are different from what most people would expect.

Bahrain isn’t the only desert blooming green this year. California’s Mojave Desert is rapidly filling up with solar-thermal power plants, courtesy of Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger. Solel Solar Systems, an Israeli solar-thermal company, recently agreed to supply Pacific Gas & Electric with 553 megawatts of solar thermal energy for 25 years, starting in 2009.

Like other companies, PG&E is racing to meet California’s 20% renewable energy requirement by 2010. As a result, Solel plans to string 1.2 million mirrors in large arrays over nine square miles of California’s southeastern desert. The plant will use parabolic 3- by 4-foot mirrors developed by Solel to convert the sun’s heat into steam that powers turbines.

Deserts aren’t the only place being developed–quite a few projects are taking place in the ocean.

Scotland boasts roughly 25% of the entire European Union’s tidal power potential and 10% of its wave energy potential. In an effort to tap those resources, Scottish Power, a wave-energy company based in Scotland, plans to build the world’s largest wave-energy farm off the coast of Orkney Island. If wave energy proves as profitable as many say, Scotland could produce more than 1,300 megawatts by 2020, enough to power a city the size of Seattle, according to some estimates.

Despite Scotland’s ambitious foray into wave energy, the Orkney project is small change compared with what’s happening off the coast on the opposite end of the island.

England is the windiest country in the European Union. Slightly smaller than Louisiana, the island nation is already hard-pressed for space, which wind farms need a whole heap of to make a difference. As a result, England has done what England has always done–head to sea.

The London Array project plans to erect a constellation of more than 340 wind turbines in the outer Thames Estuary, roughly seven miles off the Kent Coast. When construction ends, London Array will be the world’s largest offshore wind farm, generating more electricity than Denmark’s Middelgrunden offshore wind farm, which is the largest offshore farm operational today.

Although London Array is hard to beat on the big scale, that’s hardly enough to stop a Texas oil tycoon like T. Boone Pickens from trying. Nothing shows the continuity between Big Oil and Big Green quite like Pickens, the oilfield roughneck turned Texas oil tycoon who plans to build the world’s largest wind power farm.

Pickens has invested heavily in a planned wind power farm that will stretch across four counties in the Texas panhandle near Amarillo. The farm’s 2,700 wind turbines will be able to power 1 million homes when construction ends.

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CRAIG RUBENS, earth2tech/GigaOM, May 19, 2008

Iberdrola Renewables, one of the largest owners and operators of renewable energy facilities in the world, announced yesterday its plans to invest $8 billion in American renewable energy by 2010. A large part of the money will go to expanding Iberdrola’s wind energy capacity, but the company also said it intends to invest elsewhere in American clean energy.

The company says it already operates 2,400 megawatts of wind turbines in the United States with plans to boost that to 3,600 megawatts by the end of the year. The company says it aims to control a 15% share of the American wind industry by 2010, and is already the world leader in installed wind capacity with over 7 gigawatts of installed capacity. Iberdrola jumped ahead of the former leader, Florida-based FPL Energy, last year with the help of an extra 1.45 gigawatts it acquired when it bought ScottishPower’s wind assets.

Iberdrola’s big move into U.S. wind is part of a growing trend of foreign firms buying into the U.S. wind boom. According to Clean Edge, Iberdrola’s North American headquarters in Randor, Penn., has plans for 22,000 megawatts of new wind power in the U.S.

With Iberdrola’s new investment, perhaps America can achieve the potential for wind to power 20% of the U.S. by 2030, an ambitious scenario proposed by the Department of Energy’s recent report.

But beyond wind, what are Iberdrola’s other clean energy intentions? The company is no stranger to solar thermal installations, with projects in Spain and Egypt, and it could become yet another big power player moving into the American southwest. The company has also started to dabble in wave energy with PowerBuoys from Ocean Power Technologies. Meanwhile, Iberdrola’s acquisition of ScottishPower gave it more hydroelectric assets, further diversifying its portfolio.

While Iberdrola says it will invest the bulk of the money in wind, it’s clear the company could make a big play in a variety of other sectors as well. Iberdrola Chairman Ignacio Sanchez Galan said he sees the United States as Iberdrola’s most exciting market. And we’re sure many of the cleantech startups will be eagerly looking to form partnerships.

Thank you earth2tech for this article!

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PETER FAIRLEY, MIT Technology Review, February 29, 2008

Using the Sun’s Heat to Boil Water to Steam Turbines

Investors and utilities intent on building solar power plants are increasingly turning to solar thermal power, a comparatively low-tech alternative to photovoltaic panels that convert sunlight directly into electricity. This month, in the latest in a string of recent deals, Spanish solar-plant developer Abengoa Solar and Phoenix-based utility Arizona Public Service announced a 280-megawatt solar thermal project in Arizona. By contrast, the world’s largest installations of photovoltaics generate only 20 megawatts of power.

In a solar thermal plant, mirrors concentrate sunlight onto some type of fluid that is used, in turn, to boil water for a steam turbine. Over the past year, developers of solar thermal technology such as Abengoa, Ausra, and Solel Solar Systems have picked up tens of millions of dollars in financing and power contracts from major utilities such as Pacific Gas and Electric and Florida Power and Light. By 2013, projects in development in just the United States and Spain promise to add just under 6,000 megawatts of solar thermal power generation to the barely 100 megawatts installed worldwide last year, says Cambridge, MA, consultancy Emerging Energy Research.

The appeal of solar thermal power is twofold. It is relatively low cost at a large scale: an economic analysis by Severin Borenstein, director of the University of California’s Energy Institute, notes that solar thermal power will become cost competitive with other forms of power generation decades before photovoltaics will, even if greenhouse-gas emissions are not taxed aggressively.

Solar thermal developers also say that their power is more valuable than that provided by wind, currently the fastest-growing form of renewable energy. According to the U.S. Department of Energy, wind power costs about 8 cents per kilowatt, while solar thermal power costs 13 to 17 cents. But power from wind farms fluctuates with every gust and lull; solar thermal plants, on the other hand, capture solar energy as heat, which is much easier to store than electricity. Utilities can dispatch this stored solar energy when they need it–whether or not the sun happens to be shining. “That’s going to be worth a lot of money,” says Terry Murphy, president and chief executive officer of SolarReserve, a Santa Monica, CA, developer of solar thermal technology. “People are coming to realize that power shifting and ‘dispatchability’ are key to the utility’s requirements to try to balance their system.”

In fact, the capacity to store energy is critical to the economics of the solar thermal plant. Without storage, a solar thermal plant would need a turbine large enough to handle peak steam production, when the sun is brightest, but which would otherwise be underutilized. Stored heat means that a plant can use a smaller, cheaper steam turbine that can be kept running steadily for more hours of the day. While adding storage would substantially increase the cost of the energy produced by a photovoltaic array or wind farm, it actually reduces the cost per kilowatt of the energy produced by solar thermal plants.

The amount of storage included in a plant–expressed as the number of hours that it can keep the turbine running full tilt–will vary according to capital costs and the needs of a given utility. “There is an optimal point that could be three hours of storage or six hours of storage, where the cents per kilowatt- hour is the lowest,” says Fred Morse, senior advisor for U.S. operations with Abengoa Solar. Morse says that the company’s 280-megawatt plant in Arizona, set to begin operation by 2011, will have six hours of storage, while other recent projects promise seven to eight.

Morse says that while the design of solar thermal power stations is rapidly diversifying, most will use essentially the same system for storing energy: tanks full of a molten salt that remains liquid at temperatures exceeding 565 °C. “It’s basically two tanks with a lot of heat exchangers, pipes, and pumps,” says Morse. For a sense of scale, consider that the 50-megawatt plants that Germany’s Solar Millennium is building in Spain near Granada will employ 28,500 tons of molten salt in twin tanks standing 14 meters high and 38.5 meters in diameter.

While molten salt is the most popular storage option, developers are experimenting widely to find the best means of collecting heat in the first place, and integrating collection and storage. Abengoa’s plant in Arizona (see below image) will use a “trough” design in which arrays of parabolic mirrors concentrate sunlight onto a glass tube carrying a commercial heat-transfer oil such as therminol. Some of the heated oil heats the molten salt in storage while the rest directly generates steam. Abengoa Solar’s vice president for technology development, Hank Price, says that the plant’s trough energy-collection design is the one most commonly used today, thanks largely to improvements in the glass tubes. Ceramic-metal absorption coatings have increased the amount of heat captured by the tubes to the point that plants using them produce 30 percent more power than the first-generation solar thermal demonstration projects of the early 1990s.

SolarReserve, in contrast, is developing systems that directly heat molten salt. Its designs call for so-called power towers in which arrays of mirrors focus sunlight onto elevated towers. The company, launched in January, is a joint venture between energy investment bank U.S. Renewables Group and aerospace firm Hamilton Sundstrand, whose subsidiary Rocketdyne built molten-salt heat receivers for a 10-megawatt power-tower demo plant that operated in the early 1990s.

SolarReserve’s Murphy says that the power-tower system should be cheaper to build than trough-collection systems, since it doesn’t require miles of glass tubing. More important, he says, it should produce higher-quality steam. That’s because it will directly heat its molten salt to about 565 °C, about 165 degrees hotter than the oils in a trough plant.

That increased thermodynamic efficiency will be key, says Murphy, when water shortages force thermal power plants in hot, dry deserts to abandon water-based cooling of their used steam. (Steam that’s passed through the turbine must be cooled and condensed so that it can be reused.) Alternative cooling techniques are more energy intensive, cutting into a plant’s overall efficiency. The hotter a plant runs, says Murphy, the lower the losses from alternative cooling schemes. “We’re going to experience 3 to 4 percent loss,” he says, “and [the trough plants] are going to be losing 7 to 8 percent.”

Abengoa’s Price agrees that power towers do, in theory, have thermodynamic advantages, which is why Abengoa has built its own 10-megawatt demo in Spain and is building a second at 20 megawatts. But Price questions whether investors will support the direct jump to 100-to-200-megawatt power-tower plants that SolarReserve envisions. “There’s a lot of technical risk in doing that,” he says. “We need to scale up in a way that’s financeable.”

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MICHAEL GRAHAM RICHARD, treehugger.com, February 20, 2008

coolearth-balloon-u001CoolEarth has created an innovative way to harness the sun’s energy. Instead of large expensive solar panels or costly concentrating mirrors, the company is using balloons made of metalized plastic films. Half of the balloon is transparent, letting the light in to be concentrated into a small high-efficiency solar panel by the concave interior. Each is 2 meters across and, depending on the source, estimates vary from 500 watt to 1 kilowatt. They are supported by cables, leaving the ground below clear and limiting environmental impact.

The company has just raised $21 million, and it says that “this is just the initial closing of the round, [it could be extended] over the next 60 days.” The company closed a $1 million round of angel investing last June.

CoolEarth concentrators are suspended in series on support and control cables stretched between poles.Here we can see how little support material it takes to keep the balloons in place.  

“Our goal from the very start was to find a clean energy generation solution that could address the global scale of the carbon problem. We discarded everything that couldn’t scale, relied on rare components, or had some other critical bottleneck. Ultimately, we developed a novel technology which radically reduces the amount of material in our system and balances labor and capital costs,” said Dr. Eric Cummings, founder of Cool Earth Solar.

It is reported that CoolEarth is planning to build a solar farm in the 10 megawatt range in the next few years. It would use about 10,000 balloons over 80 acres.

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Marianne Lavelle, U.S. News & World Report, February 21, 2008

It’s a big week for mirrors in the desert—with two big southwestern projects putting a spotlight on a form of big-scale solar energy that its most ardent advocates believe has the best chance of expanding the nation’s share of electricity from renewable sources.

Today, Arizona’s largest utility, Arizona Public Service, is announcing plans to build the world’s largest “concentrating solar power” plant, a $1 billion project to spread parabolic mirrors over a 3-mile-square stretch of desert 70 miles southwest of Phoenix. To be designed and built by the Spanish firm Abengoa, it would generate 280 megawatts of electricity, or enough to power 70,000 homes.

That makes it four times as large as Nevada Solar One, near Boulder City, Nev., which last summer became the first CSP plant to open in the United States in more than 17 years. Tomorrow, Nevada Solar One’s developer, a rival Spanish company, Acciona, plans a star-studded dedication ceremony for the facility, with speakers including former astronaut Sally Ride, Apple cofounder Steve Wozniak, and actor/activist Ed Begley Jr. The dedication, says Acciona Energy North America chief executive Peter Duprey, is meant to get the word out that concentrating solar “is a reality today, and we need to be developing it and exploiting it.”

Unlike the solar energy that most people know, CSP doesn’t use expensive semiconductor material to transform the sun’s energy into electricity. CSP relies on mirrors to focus sunlight onto a heat transfer fluid, which in turn heats water into steam, which turns turbines to generate power. The big Arizona plant, which will be called Solana Generating Station, will take the technology an exciting step forward by using molten salt to store solar energy for up to six hours. “When the suns sets, this plant keeps on ticking,” says Arizona Public Service President Don Brandt. “We’ll have solar energy in the dark.”

The big issue with solar energy has been the cost. Brandt says the Solana plant is expected to generate electricity at 12 cents to 14 cents per kilowatt-hour, which is about 20 percent more than the cost of the other electricity that APS generates with its mix of nuclear, natural gas, and coal. But Brandt notes that since the price of the fuel is free, it’s a 30-year contract with one big source of risk eliminated. If natural gas prices increase or if coal-fired power is made more expensive because of climate-change legislation, the CSP power could end up being one of the lowest-priced forms of electricity in the utility’s portfolio. “Any business wants to diversify its sources of supply,” Brandt says. “That’s why we feel right now the price is attractive. And you factor in the possibility of natural gas prices rising or any carbon legislation, and I think we’ll look back in five years and think this was an absolute grand-slam home run.”

In the late 1970s, it was the U.S. government that spurred research and development of CSP technology through a series of experimental projects in the Mojave Desert—one of which has been generating power for years, operated by Florida Power & Light. But in recent years, European companies have taken the lead in big-scale renewable energy projects, spurred by aggressive government incentives.

Duprey of Acciona says his company is building four more CSP plants in Spain and has a number in development in the United States. He says all will be two or three times the scale of Nevada Solar One, which was a $226 million project. “This plant is on the smaller side, because we wanted to see how it would work,” he says. “We had to start out with all new suppliers and build out this industry. It’s like an infant—we have to nurture it and bring it along.

“We believe the technology is proven, it’s a matter of getting more suppliers and getting competition among suppliers and driving the cost down,” he says.

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PG&E this morning finally consummated a long-expected solar power deal with Silicon Valley startup Ausra, agreeing to buy 177 megawatts of green electricity generated by a solar thermal plant to be built by the company on California’s central coast. As Green Wombat reported Friday, Ausra — backed by marquee venture capitalists Vinod Khosla and Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers — has filed a development and licensing application with the California Energy Commission for the project, called the Carrizo Solar Energy Farm.

With its latest power purchase agreement, PG&E (PCG) has committed to buying more than 1.2 gigawatts of greenhouse-gas free electricity from three large-scale solar power plants — enough to light nearly a million homes. Construction of the Ausra power plant is expected to begin in 2009 and go online the following year. Terms were not disclosed — they never are in power purchase deals — but Ausra revealed in its Energy Commission application that the agreement runs for 20 years. The company, which decamped to Silicon Valley from Sydney last year, claims that its Compact Fresnel Linear Reflector system — long flat mirrors that focus the sun’s rays on water-filled tubes to create steam that drives electricity-generating turbines — will produce power at costs competitive with natural gas-fired plants. A pilot power plant (Ausra photo above) is up and running in Australia. The Carrizo solar farm will be a boon for the San Luis Obispo County economy, employing 350 workers during construction and creating 100 permanent jobs, according to Ausra.

Carrizo will be the company’s first solar power station in the U.S., though in September Florida utility FPL (FPL) announced it would build 10-megawatt demonstration plant using Ausra’s technology as well as a 300-megawatt version if all goes as planned. Ausra executives have told Green Wombat they anticipate rolling out enough solar farms to produce at least a gigawatt of electricity over the next few years.

That might be taken as so much Silicon Valley hype, and only time will tell if the technology lives up to its promise, but regulatory and economic trends indicate that deals like the PG&E-Ausra agreement is just the beginning of a wave of Big Solar projects. California’s investor-owned utilities — PG&E, Southern California Edison (EIX) and San Diego Gas & Electric (SRE) — face a 2010 deadline to source 20 percent of their electricity from renewable sources, with the ante rising to 30 percent by 2020. Those utilities are actively negotiating gigawatts of solar power deals, sources tell Green Wombat. Meanwhile, California-based solar power companies like Ausra and BrightSource Energy, as well as a host of overseas competitors, are moving to license prospective projects, confident they’ll secure power purchase agreements with utilities as well as the financing to build their solar power plants. That Morgan Stanley (MS) has quietly invested in BrightSource — the company is negotiating a 500-megawatt agreement with PG&E — is but the latest sign that Wall Street is looking to profit from Big Solar.

Even California’s green governator weighed in on the PG&E-Ausra deal. “Today’s agreement between PG&E and Ausra highlights how clean energy will create jobs in California while delivering a reliable source of renewable energy,” said Arnold Schwarzenegger in a statement. “I’m pleased to see California companies rising to the challenge of AB 32, California’s historic initiative to reduce carbon emissions and combat climate change. Clearly, California continues to lead the nation in clean energy research, development and generation.”

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MendoCoastCurrent is currently a stakeholder-based blog focused on clean technology and renewable energy developments in the world as well as wave energy developments on the Mendocino Coast

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