BrightSource CEO John Woolard: We understand what it takes to build major CSP projects like Ivanpah

“We’ve got to build 50 gigawatts a year of carbon-free power … and we’re failing miserably at doing it.”

Green energy superstar BrightSource Energy notched a big win this week when a California state regulator recommended approval of its 392-megawatt Ivanpah Solar Electric Generating System in the Mojave Desert.

The California Energy Commission will now hold a 30-day public comment period before voting on the final decision. Another regulatory approval, this one from the federal Bureau of Land Management, should come down in short order. The company plans to begin construction on the complex by fall.

G.E.R. spoke to BrightSource Chief Executive Officer John Woolard earlier this summer about the regulatory challenges of the project.

Concentrated solar thermal power (CSP) is a core climate solution.  Green Energy has an interview with Woolard about his big planned air-cooled CSP project:

“I can’t say we were never frustrated,” he said. A bit of an understatement perhaps.

BrightSource has faced opposition to the Ivanpah project on a number of fronts, most notably because the initial 6-square-mile project footprint was in the habitat of the threatened desert tortoise. The Sierra Club wanted them to relocate the project entirely, which would have threatened the $1.37 billion loan guarantee the Energy Department has awarded for the project.

BrightSource technology uses thousands of mirrors to reflect sunlight onto a boiler on top of a 459-foot metal tower. The steam generated as the liquid is boiled is piped to a turbine and generates electricity. Ivanpah should power about 140,000 homes and the energy has already been sold to Pacific Gas & Electric and Sourthern California Edison.

Woolard said he there is always opposition to the first of anything (for a rough analogy, see Cape Wind’s attempts to build an offshore wind farm in Nantucket).

“Everybody in our company has built power plants and assets before and understands what it takes,” he told G.E.R. in an interview at the Renewable Energy Finance Forum in New York on June 29.

Not that the regulatory hurdles have prevented BrightSource from raising heaps of cash. In May, a Series D financing secured $150 million to build 14 new solar plants from the California State Teachers Retirement System and Alstom, among others.

He added that the intensive review process made the project that much better.

In February, BrightSource revised the project to reduce the project footprint by 12 percent – which reduced the megawattage from 440 to 392 – and minimize its impact on rare flora and fauna, including the desert tortoise.

The solar will also cool the project with air, instead of water, saving considerable amounts of water.

Woolard said most environmental groups understand the threat of climate change and are simply advocating for thoughtful planning. But, he added that “the biggest threat to any biodiversity is not acting thoughtfully.”

Woolard noted that there were 74,000 permits issued for oil and gas projects on federal lands in the past 15 years, while there have been zero for solar projects.

“We’ve got a major problem to solve,” Woolard said. “We’ve got to build 50 gigawatts a year of carbon-free power. That’s a lot of power to build and we’re failing miserably at doing it.”

This is reposted from Green Energy

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20 Responses to BrightSource CEO John Woolard: We understand what it takes to build major CSP projects like Ivanpah

  1. Bob Lang says:

    50 Gigawatts/year (baseload) of carbon-free power is what is needed. The actual amount being built in the foreseeable future is negligible compared to what is needed.

    Anybody who thinks the problem of climate change is being addressed is living in fanatasyland.

  2. Bob Wallace says:

    A comment following a blog piece about the first CSP with molten salt storage gave this data for a yet-to-be built plant.

    Anyone have an educated opinion as to the accuracy of the numbers?

    (4,5 €cents/kWh would be about $0.06/kWh. I assume the price per kWh would be a bit higher in the US due to somewhat less ideal solar conditions and higher labor costs.)

    “For a typical 100MW stand alone plant in Egypt, it should look like this:

    Annual direct solar radiation: 2.900 kWh/(m2 year)
    Total area occupied by the solar collectors: 67 ha
    Total area occupied by the solar field: 134 ha
    Nominal power output: 100 MW (Peak 485 MW)
    Thermal storage capacity: 1.800 MWh
    Net annual electricity produced: 369 GWh/year
    Plant load factor: 42 %

    Total Cost : 157 M€
    Specific cost : 1.570 €/kWe
    Service life: 25 years
    Interest rate: 7%
    Annual operating (O&M) costs: 2% of investment cost
    Levelized Cost Of Electricity (LCOE): 4,5 €cents/kWh”

  3. Deborah Stark says:

    This is very heartening news. I hope the path forward for this project will be a smooth one. That they’ve gotten this far is no small accomplishment in my opinion.

    We need to visibly support this kind of endeavor.

    We need to stop being concerned that it’s too little, too late. (I mean we KNOW that.)

    Here’s one project that looks extremely promising and I for one am very excited.

  4. Bob Wallace says:

    Here’s an interesting map of the Southwest US showing where the best sites for CSP are and also showing existing transmission lines.

    Sure wish Feinstein’s bill would pass and create pre-approved sites for installations such as CSP. That would help speed things along.

    I’m with Deborah. Let’s get some demonstration plants up and running. If it turns out that the price per kWh is good then we’ll see lots more plants being built. It’s a lot easier to sell a new technology if the cost is less, the same, or not much more expensive than the old.

  5. fj2 says:

    Seems like John Woolard is saying that about 125 CSP or other carbon fee projects of this scale should be built every year.

  6. fj2 says:

    Civilization’s dependency on tobacco is predicted to kill one billion people by 2050 AD.

    Civilization’s dependency on cars will destroy it.

    Perhaps, the most immediate source of “found” carbon-free energy will be broad deployment mobility solutions with environmental footprints less than 1% transportation systems based on cars.

  7. Bob Wallace says:

    Fj2 – In the US about 20% of the population lives “rural”.

    Your ‘less than 1% based on cars’ is not feasible.

    It’s also not practical. The general public will not give up cars, short of something like the military seizing and destroying them. I.e., it’s not going to happen….

  8. Edward says:

    We need to REPLACE all coal fired power plants with non-fossil fueled power by the end of 2015 and add enough additional power that is Carbon free to keep up with requirements. I don’t want CO2 sequestration near me because it might leak out and suffocate me. I want power that does not come from fossil fuel. Period. Woolard’s ambition is not ambitious enough. We need to shut down the coal industry completely. Also do not allow coal to liquid fuels conversion because that would continue putting CO2 into the air until the whole 300 ppm possible from coal is in the air. So we need even more CO2 free energy to remove CO2 from the air and convert the CO2 into gasoline. Woolard’s ambition is not ambitious enough by a factor of 10.

    The drought in Russia is part of the now very visible Global Warming. The price of wheat has gone up since the Russians embargoed wheat exports, and the prices for other grains, including corn, have also gone up. This is the future we were afraid of. It is here now. We will pay for what we did not do in 1988 starting right now in the grocery store. The poorest people will, as usual, pay with their lives.

    What is the URL for making comments to the California Energy Commission?

  9. mike roddy says:

    fj2, #6:

    I think Woolard is referring to global needs. You’re right- 50 gw is 1/6 of current US installed capacity; we can’t build it out that fast here.

  10. Bill Woods says:

    Bob Wallace (#2), Andasol 1, the ‘first CSP with molten salt storage’ that I’m aware of, went online over a year ago. It cost €300 million and produces 180 GW·h/yr; i.e. twice the cost for half the power of this hypothetical Egyptian plant.

  11. Theodore says:

    to mike roddy #9:

    In 2008, installed capacity in the US was 956,581 MW.

  12. Bob Wallace says:

    Thanks, Bill. But we generally find first of a kind projects to be much more expensive than what prices are when things settle down to ‘routine’.

    I’m wondering whether the ‘four times less than Andasol 1’ price is a reasonable assumption or too optimistic. This is all pretty much plumbing and mirrors. I’m wondering what sorts of economies of scale might come into play here.

  13. David B. Benson says:

    Edward@8 — Sequestered CO2 won’t leak. The underground saline water tends to sink when laden with CO2 and the chemistry is such that the CO2 is forcedd to sink with it.

    I prefer building nuclear powerr plants for the many parts of the country for which solar is not suitable. Here is one forthcoming design which looks very safe to me:
    and which they appear to think is cost competative with other baseload generation methods.

  14. fj2 says:

    7. Bob Wallace, that’s the common wisdom.

    Fortunately, it’s likely incorrect.

  15. fj2 says:

    “America Goes Dark,” Paul Krugman, NY Times, Aug 8, 2010

    “Meanwhile, a country that once amazed the world with is visionary investments in transportation, from the Erie Canal to the Interstate Highway System, is now in the process of unpaving itself: in a number of states, local governments are breaking up roads they can no longer afford to maintain and returning them to gravel.”

  16. Lewis Cleverdon says:

    Theodore posted the DOE figure of ~956GW of capacity for the US, whose population size makes that around 3kw per capita.

    Britain, with a comparable post-industrial history, has over 72GW capacity and a population-size to make that about 1.2kw per capita.

    With that capacity, power cuts here are very uncommon, and all but the most remote mountain farms have a grid supply.

    Recent reports to the govt’s Department of Energy & Climate Change identify easily achievable means to cut power usage by ~40%, implying that ~0.72kw per capita of capacity will be sufficient for modern lifestyles.

    If Britain, impoverished and de-skilled as it is, can get by with about one fifth of US installed capacity per capita, then the problems in the US are not technological but political – a level of corruption and the decadence that nurtures it that is suicidal to US prospects, and genocidal for the prospects of ex-developing nations.

    Perhaps it needs saying once again that, with the US stonewalling on the UN negotiations of national allocations under a declining cap on global emissions, any fuels displaced by non-fossil energies are being, and will be, bought and burned elsewhere ?



  17. fj2 says:

    #18. Bob Wallace, “2000 US census. 79% urban, 21% rural.”

    So what?

    Rural benefits from low-cost, safe, practical, convenient, low-carbon, high performance transport just as much as urban. For lighter-than-human-weight vehicles rural infrastructure may not be much more than the guard rails on the sides of roads.

    China has 430 million cyclists and over 120 million people using electric bikes. How many rural do they have despite having the greatest mass migration of all time?

  18. fj2 says:

    A huge amount of energy would be found virtually free simply by optimizing human mobility.

    Mainstreaming cycling technology seems to be the major path to extensive mobility solutions since it provides less than 1% the environmental foot print of transportation systems based on cars conveniently at a small fraction of the cost — all with existing mature technology — completely amenable to ongoing trends of miniaturization, light-weighting, and high mobility.

    Considering infrastructure requirements and many other externalities, cycling technology provides opportunities to reduce the environmental foot print of human mobility substantially less than 1% of transportation systems based on cars.

    Cycling technology is actually three to four times more efficient than walking with comparable reductions in carbon dioxide emissions!

    Requiring significantly less than 1% the environmental foot print of transportation systems based on cars is a major advantage now and many times more far into the future where the global population is projected to peak at between 8.5 to 10 billion people by mid-century.

    Recumbent and semi-recumbent tricycles are much safer and more comfortable because they are equipped with real seats and with electric assists can virtually provide complete accessibility to everyone except those that are visually impaired. They are much lower to the ground and with the rider sitting back there is much less tendency to go over handlebars as on conventional bicycles. With a lower profile to the wind and subsequent air resistance they are also easier to ride and human-power since they are much more efficient than conventional upright bicycles. On-demand soft enclosures and hard enclosures exist to further reduce air resistance and provide weather protection if desired.

    Speed records over 80 mph have been achieved on faired human-powered-only recumbent vehicles.

    Keeping free-wheeling speeds below 20 miles per hour helps with safety and much higher safe speeds are obtainable using simple mechanical collision avoidance and control such as small monorails and guide ways further extending accessibility to those that are visually impaired. Systems can also help reduce and ultimately eliminate much of the need to transport dense energy storage such as fossil fuels and batteries.

    Highly modular vehicles and systems provide considerable practical advantage. Just as someone might help a blind person across a difficult street, pushing and pulling one another while free wheeling would provide communal assistance to those that are visually impaired with the high value of the communal nature of transit being extremely important.

    Technically, high modularity is likely critical to creating transit using lighter-than-human-weight-vehicles working on-and-off systems that are easily adaptable to on-demand requirements such as multiple individuals traveling together, moving additional freight, different weather and environmental conditions.

    Broad implementation of such technologies would require extensive deployment and employment of many industries and laborers. Typical advantages would go the early innovators and adopters such as having a say in establishing de facto standards potentially effecting local monopolies and dissemination of replicable models, experience-driven insider knowledge, and market positioning.