A Little Night Solar: BrightSource Energy Offers Multi-Hour Thermal Storage

Yesterday, we highlighted an interesting concentrating solar power plant design from MIT that could significantly reduce costs and allow projects to generate electricity 24-hours a day using molten salt storage.

Coincidentally, one of the leading CSP developers, BrightSource Energy, announced this morning that it will be offering molten salt storage for future power plant designs, allowing the company to extend electricity production into the evening.

It’s not a 15-hour system like the Gemasolar plant in Spain – a project that became the first to generate ‘round the clock electricity. But the multi-hour system will help BrightSource lower the cost of electricity produced at a facility.

BrightSource is developing a 392-MW Power Tower project in the Mojave Desert. The system does not feature molten salt storage, but future projects will presumably come equipped with the technology.

While utilities deploy large amounts of solar PV, the CSP sector has been slow to flourish. That’s because PV plants are faster and often cheaper to build. However, large-scale CSP projects with storage provide more firm power that utilities can better rely on throughout the day – and often into the night.

“That’s where these CSP technologies can have a real advantage,” says GTM Research Senior Analyst Brett Prior.

BrightSource’s current cost of energy is around 14 cents per kilowatt-hour without storage. With storage, it could drop down substantially.

But whether or not it will be able to compete with the 11 cents a kilowatt-hour power-purchase agreements that utilities are signing with PV developers is uncertain.

Another major concern is whether utilities will be allowed to pay extra for additional hours of storage, called “partial dispatchability.”

“Assuming project developers can get compensated for that added value, these plants look a more attractive compared to PV,” says Prior.

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