Solar projects storing energy in molten salt move ahead [click on image to enlarge]
SolarReserve Co. has received essential clearances on its first two utility-scale solar projects, offering power after sundown by storing solar-generated energy in reservoirs as molten salt.
The Santa Monica, Calif., company got approval Monday from the Interior Department’s Bureau of Land Management for its 110-megawatt Crescent Dunes Solar Energy Project near Tonopah, Nev.
Last week, the California Energy Commission approved construction and operation of SolarReserve’s Rice Solar Energy Project, a 150-megawatt generator located near Blythe, in eastern Riverside County, Calif. The project still requires approval of its environmental impact statement by BLM and the Western Area Power Administration, the company said.
The projects have an estimated cost of $650 million to $750 million each and should be under construction in 2011, with completion scheduled for 2013-2014. SolarReserve is seeking Energy Department loan guarantees for both projects. A third project, in Arizona, is under development.
SolarReserve’s system is an answer to the intermittency and ramping up challenges that solar power presents, said Kevin Smith, SolarReserve’s chief executive. Based initially on DOE-funded research by Rocketdyne (now Pratt & Whitney Rocketdyne, a division of United Technologies Corp.), the projects use mirrors to concentrate solar energy on power towers, heating molten salt inside to more than 1,000 degrees Fahrenheit. The heated molten salt is stored in insulated tanks and is called on as needed to produce steam, driving turbine generators.
Electricity from the Nevada project, developed by SolarReserve’s subsidiary, Tonopah Solar Energy LLC, will be sold to NV Energy under a 25-year power purchase agreement. The initial rate will be just over 13 cents per kilowatt-hour and will increase by 1 percent in following years, according to the company’s filing with the Nevada Public Utilities Commission. Pacific Gas & Electric Co. will purchase power from the California project, also for 25 years. No pricing information on that project was available yesterday.
As more plants are built, the cost of energy from the projects will decline, Smith said. “We are confident that the overall costs will ultimately be driven down well under 10 cents a kilowatt-hour,” he said. “We believe that is competitive versus adding new generation, including nuclear, clean coal and solar photovoltaic power,” he added. The current average retail price in the Southwest is between 11 and 12 cents per kilowatt-hour.
Smith said the starting point for the plants’ design is technology developed for liquid-fueled rocket engines through a DOE pilot project in the late 1990s. Rocketdyne has continued to invest in core technologies for the project, including high heat transfer, specialized welding and the use of liquid salts as cooling agents, Smith said.
“The technology is ready to go,” he said.
“The critical part of our technology is the storage capability, which allow us to provide very competitive renewable energy. Because of storage, we can meet peak demand requirements exactly.” The projects can also supply “regulation” services — the short-term balancing responses required to assure demand always equals supply on the grid, he added.
Able to deliver electricity during afternoons and up to eight hours after sundown, the system produces much more energy over the course of a year than do traditional solar or wind projects that don’t have their own power storage capability, he said.
SolarReserve, which holds the worldwide license for the Rocketdyne technology, is a development arm of US Renewables Group, a private equity firm that is concentrating on renewable energy projects ranging from solar and wind energy to biomass generation in more than a dozen countries. Investors have put a second round of financing behind SolarReserve totaling $140 million to advance its utility-scale solar power plants worldwide. US Renewables, Citi Alternative Investments and Good Energies, a global investor in renewable energy, led the funding commitments.
Its California and Nevada projects follow one by Spain’s Abengoa Solar, which has received a $1.45 billion DOE loan guarantee commitment to build a 280-megawatt solar plant with molten salt storage 70 miles southwest of Phoenix. The two firms use different technologies to concentrate solar energy in heating molten salt.
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“Once again, we are faced with federal overreach that threatens our collective prosperity,” he said. “We don’t intend to let this stand.”
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Oil-state lawmakers in both parties fiercely opposed language to extend to 90 days the amount of time federal offshore drilling regulators can take to review these drilling plans – which include environmental analyses, oil spill response strategies and other aspects of a larger blueprint that need to be approved before a company requests an actual permit to drill.
The 90-day review period – which was pushed by the Obama administration – was included in a yearlong continuing spending resolution the House passed this month, as well as an omnibus spending plan that would have run through fiscal year 2011. That died late last week in the Senate.
The slimmed down Senate-passed continuing resolution removed the 60-day review extension and a host of other unrelated policy changes.
Sustainable Energy Capital Partners (SECP), a developer of renewable energy projects, announced a joint venture partnership with POSCO Power, the largest independent power producer in South Korea, for developing and building a 300-megawatt (MW) photovoltaic solar power plant in Boulder City, Nevada.
Construction is scheduled to begin in the second half of 2012 and is expected to create jobs for hundreds of locals. Once fully operational, the plant will have enough capacity to provide electricity to almost 135,000 households for 25 years.
“Our partnership with POSCO Power will become an example of what’s possible in today’s solar industry when global companies work together to implement a shared vision. We, at SECP, are certainly pleased to be bringing much-needed jobs to Nevada while advancing our mission of providing power that is both clean and sustainable,” said Steve Herr, Managing Director of SECP.
Parsons Corporation, one of the largest engineering, technical, construction, and management services firms in the world, will also take part in the project.