Worlds largest solar plant with thermal storage to be built in Arizona — total of 8500 MW of this core climate solution planned for 2014 in U.S. alone

Concentrated solar thermal aka solar baseload has definitely come of age in the United States.

Just a few weeks ago, I posted “World’s largest solar power plants with thermal storage to be built in Arizona” about a 200-MW plant and a 280-MW plant planned for AZ.  But “The technology that will save humanity” is on the fast track thank to the stimulus:  “Mohave Sun Power, LLC has announced plans to build a 340-megawatt concentrating solar project.”

CSP plants are cropping up all over.  Earth2tech reports, “11 Solar Thermal Companies Powering Up“:

There are 2.5GW of solar thermal projects with announced power purchase agreements in California and Arizona slated for construction in the next few years.

UPDATE:  In its new study Global Concentrated Solar Power Markets and Strategies 2009-2020, Emerging Energy Research finds that “the CSP industry is scaling rapidly with 1.2 GW under construction as of April 2009 and another 13.9 GW announced globally through 2014 … with 8.5 GW in the pipeline and scheduled for installation by 2014.”  Here is their remarkable figure showing the “global take-off” of CSP:

Global CSP pipeline by country, 1985-2014.

The easiest way to deal with the intermittency of the sun is cheap storage — and thermal storage is much cheaper and has a much higher round-trip efficiency than electric storage.  The ability to provide power reliably throughout the day and evening in key locations around the world (including China and India) is why CSP delivers 3 of the 12 – 14 wedges needed for “the full global warming solution.”

Not all of the 2.5 GW of CSP being built in CA and AZ have storage, but the latest and biggest plants do:

Sunlight will be collected at the Mohave Sun Power and Albiasa facilities using mirrored troughs and focused on a tube of oil running through the center of the troughs. The oil will be transported back to a central facility where it will be used to generate steam. Some of the energy will be stored in molten salt tanks until it is needed during peak energy times.

What about water consumption?

the plant will use about 1,500 to 3,000 acre-feet of water per year to wash the mirrors and generate steam. The plant intends to recycle some of the water. The company says it’s well aware of the water concerns in the county and is spending a lot of time upfront on the issue, Bartlett said.  But the company won’t know the exact amount of water the plant will use until the plans are finished and the quality of the water has been determined.

The Las Vegas Review Journal notes, “One acre-foot of water is enough to supply two Las Vegas Valley homes for one year.” Perhaps they should consider the Heller system (see “The secret to low-water-use, high-efficiency concentrating solar power“).

If I’m doing the math right, this CSP plant would power more than 80,000 homes while consuming the water of maybe 5000 homes.

As one of the early CSP plants, it isn’t cheap, and it will rely on the stimulus and tax credits to be built:

The new project is expected cost more than $2.1 billion. The company has applied for a federal loan guarantee from the U.S. Department of Energy. The project is also eligible for a 30 percent Federal Investment Tax Credit.

If built, the project will create up to 1,500 jobs during its 2.5 to 3 year construction period, and offer more than 100 full-time jobs after the plant is completed. The company expects to start construction in the fourth quarter of 2010 and complete the project in the second half of 2013.

“The new project is expected cost more than $2.1 billion.”  So that is about $6000/kw.

The world hasn’t really built many CSP plants until very recently, so costs are projected to drop steadily down the experience curve for new technology in the coming decade thanks to economies of scale and technology learning.   As the 2006 report “Economic, Energy, and Environmental Benefits of Concentrating Solar Power in California,” for the National Renewable Energy Laboratory, by Black & Veatch concluded:

A comparison of the levelized cost of energy (LCOE) revealed that the LCOE of $148 per MWh [14.8 c/kwh] for the first CSP plants installed in 2009 is competitive with the simple cycle combustion turbine at an LCOE of $168 per MWh, assuming that the temporary 30 percent Investment Tax Credit is extended.

The ITC was extended 8 years in the bailout bill.  And this analysis was really aimed at 2015 costs:

CSP plants installed in 2015 are projected to exhibit a delivered LCOE of $115/MWh, compared with $168/MWh for the simple cycle combustion turbine and $104/MWh for combined cycle plants. At a natural gas price of about $8 per MMBtu, the LCOE of CSP and the combined cycle plants at 40 percent capacity factor are equal.

And that is without a carbon price.

This new plant does not have a power purchase agreement, but the 2.5 GW in new AZ and CA plants listed here do.

Here comes the sun!

15 Responses to Worlds largest solar plant with thermal storage to be built in Arizona — total of 8500 MW of this core climate solution planned for 2014 in U.S. alone

  1. no name says:

    Instead of water could we in the future use carbon captured liquid CO2?

    at night I know some power plants use pumped storage to save energy for peak demand times. could we use liquid CO2 for that?

  2. Joe says:

    I’m gonna say, probably not.

  3. Jim Beacon says:

    Just to give people a sense of scale: The 8.5 GW worth of Solar Thermal plants scheduled for completion within the next 5 years is the equivalent of building 4 new Hoover Dams!

    [JR: Remember the lower capacity factor for CSP.]

  4. Brendan says:

    From what I remember, new coal plants cost $1-$2 / Watt to build, and your numbers for nuclear were $12 ish /watt?

    I’m just trying to get a sense of how renewables are doing relative to fossil fuels. If you could do a post on how the costs stand now (with/without the production tax credit), that would be wonderful. I would like to be educated for one, and I would like to be able to inform others when I talk to them about renewable energy, and how close it is to being competitve with new coal.

  5. MarkB says:

    Energy experts: how many average U.S. homes does 8.5 GW of solar thermal power cover? That looks to be in the millions.

  6. Bill Woods says:

    The usual rule of thumb seems to be that the average home uses electricity at an average rate of 1 kW, give or take. So 8.5 GW of solar would cover roughly 3 million homes.

  7. AVE_fan says:

    The diagram shows what would be “dry” cooling towers, although the symbols makes them look like “wet” ones.

    If the plant installed “vortex engine” cooling towers instead of conventional ones, the plant could recover an additional 15% electricity based on the solar energy absorbed, increasing the overall plant efficiency from 30 to 45%, with only a ~10-15% increase in overall capital investment, and without any additional mirrors or land area requirements. See

  8. AVE_fan says:


    Your $1-$2 dollar per Watt of coal capacity would be wrong. Try $6-$8/ watt for a state of the art plant. And even this would be for one that still emits a significant amount of pollution and doesn’t cover in cost for increasing coal mining and transport capacity.

    Then the plant would be faced with not only coal costs but probably emissions tariffs for the carbon dioxide emitted at about $50/ton.

    Renewables are the wave of the future…

  9. no name says:

    remember in the calculations you don’t have to pay for the sun or the wind.

  10. davew says:

    no name,

    Unfortunately using liquid CO2 is not practical. CO2 can’t liquefy under less than 5.2 atmospheres (atm) pressure at a temperature of -56.6C (-69.9F). If you want to liquefy it at 0C (32F) it takes about 35 atm and at 29.5C (85F) it takes around 70 atm.

  11. Leland Palmer says:

    Great news.

    For baseload power, such plants are compatible with any source of heat for raising steam, such as engineered geothermal or biocarbon.

    What I suggest is building biocarbon log pipelines or carbon monoxide pipelines from existing biomass sources or biomass plantations to the solar plants. The biocarbon could be burned directly by oxyfuel/CCS to supplement the solar and match electricity supply with demand. The carbon monoxide could be converted to a mixture of hydrogen and CO2 by the water gas shift reaction, then burned by oxyfuel/CCS. The resulting CO2 could be deep injected.

    That would transform these slightly carbon positive solar thermal power plants (right now we burn fossil fuels to construct them} to slightly carbon negative power plants.

  12. Sasparilla says:

    Great to see the investments starting to scale here….nice to have the good news.

  13. Cathy Orlando says:

    Great News .

    I live in Canada and dirty oil and nuclear energy are competing for tax payer’s dollars for more funding.

    Thanks for leading the way USA.

    Canada will be following your lead soon.

    We are too connected to fail.

  14. Walt Palmer says:

    For comparison purposes, the largest coal-fired power plant in North America is at Nanticoke ON; it’s power output is a little less than half of the output of the CSP plant envisioned. It should be noted however that peak power output for a solar plant is not exactly the same as the rating of constant levels of power from a coal plant: A coal plant can run all day every day at it’s rated output; a CSP plant reaches max output in good sun conditions and must devote much of its output to thermal storage for night (or cloudy) power generation. It would be interesting to read about the developers’ forecasts for what amount of power might be reliably available throughout a ‘normal’ work week.

    I can’t see that these plants can continue to be built without Heller Cycle cooling. There is not nearly enough water (especially in the Southwest US) to pump it out of a river or aquifer and then just blow it into the air.

    It’s exciting to see these new technologies being developed before our very eyes.

  15. ali maksoud says:

    how we can determine the optemazed volume to slar thermal storage tank
    I need mor ditalis about it.
    so I need refrans about that.
    becouse I study in damascus univ in solar energy mastr.
    I am sory becous my english writing not good.