LANDMARK NEWS FOR SOLAR POWER PLANTS
Big landmarks in the history of solar power plant installations were quietly passed in December.
Following the most comprehensive permitting process ever done in California, the California Public Utilities Commission (CPUC) approved the Sunrise Powerlink transmission project.
A few days later, the El Dorado Energy Solar project, the biggest thin film photovoltaic (PV) installation in North America, went on line in Nevada.
The approval of Sunrise Powerlink, which will deliver power generated in California's Imperial Valley to the San Diego Bay region, makes it possible for installation of the astonishingly ambitious 900-megawatt Stirling solar power plant complex to proceed, answering the question raised by NewEnergyNews December 16: STIRLING IN THE SUN?
The answer is yes.
Financed by a power purchase agreement (PPA) from San Diego Gas & Electric (SDG&E), Stirling Energy Systems will now proceed with the installation of 12,000 of its other-worldly dishes, a 300-megawat capacity, and, if all goes according to plan, ramp-up for the installation of another 24,000 dishes, another 600 megawatts of generation capacity, after the first part of the project is operational.
Stirling dishes. (click to enlarge)
The Stirling dishes have been tested at Sandia National Labs for over a decade but have yet to face a real-life trial. Parabolic trough and solar power tower technologies are already in service. Putting the Stirling dish to work will offer a utility scale trial of another important solar power plant concept, moving the industry toward further clarity on the relative merits of the competing concentrating solar mirror designs.
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In Nevada, First Solar will get the biggest U.S. test yet of its cadmium telluride thin film PV formulation. First Solar’s thin film has been the hottest investment in solar energy for the last 2 years, primarily because of its wide use in Europe and its potential as a building-integrated energy-generating material. Its 2007 revenues were over $500 million.
Sempra Generation signed a 20-year power purchase agreement with First Solar for the El Dorado Solar Project, a 10-megawatt installation adjacent to an existing fossil fuel power plant in Nevada run by Sempra Energy, Generation's parent utility.
This puts Sempra in the solar power plant game for the first time and is yet another example of the expansion of utilities into New Energy ownership. California’s Pacific Gas & Electric (PG&E) made it easy for Sempra by signing a 20-year PPA for the entire 10-megawatt output.
Financed by PPAs with California utilities, both projects owe much to California’s Renewable Electricity Standard (RES). The California RES requires the state’s utilities to obtain 20% of their power from New Energy sources by 2010. This is an indication of what it will mean for New Energy nationally when the incoming administration pushes through its campaign-promised national RES requiring all U.S. utilities to obtain 10% of their power from New Energy sources by 2012 and 25% by 2025.
The El Dorado project will be a great opportunity for First Solar’s cadmium telluride thin film technology to prove itself, especially because the installation is immediately adjacent to Nevada Solar One, which is producing 64 megawatts of solar energy (75 megawatts peak) with the parabolic trough technology. First Solar promises more effective power generation in real world conditions from its panel formulation because it is designed to generate in varying levels of sunlight.
Both the Stirling and First Solar technologies will give their utility operators the opportunity to see how meaningful it is to generate electricity at peak demand periods without water consumption or greenhouse gas emissions, 2 considerations likely to be quite important going forward.
As the race to perfect a method for storing solar energy moves ahead, the storage concepts using compressed steam would favor the Stirling, parabolic trough and power tower generators whereas a breakthrough in battery-storage technologies would favor PV panel generation technologies.
No sound, just amazing vistas of the El Dorado Solar Project, finishing with a fast-action view of the construction process. From marketwire via YouTube.
Sempra Generation Completes North America's Largest 'Thin-Film' Solar Power Installation; PG&E Purchases New Project's Output
December 22, 2008 (CNNMoney)
SDG&E's Sunrise Powerlink Gets 'Green Light' From State Regulators
December 18, 2008 (CNN Money)
San Diego Gas & Electric (SDG&E); Sempra Generation (Michael W. Allman, President/CEO), subsidiary of Sempra Energy (NYSE: SRE); Pacific Gas and Electric (PG&E) (Jack Keenan, COO); California Public Utilities Commission (CPUC); First Solar (NASDAQ: FSLR); Stirling Energy Systems (SES)
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In the same 1-week period, CPUC granted final approval for the Sunrise Powerlink transmission project and the El Dorado Energy Solar project, a 10-megawatt thin film PV solar power plant went online.
- Completion of the Sunrise Powerlink is planned for 2012.
- Construction began on the El Dorado Energy Solar project in July 2008 and was completed in December 2008.
- El Dorado is Sempra’s first solar energy project.
- First Solar was formed in 1999.
- Stirling Energy Systems was incorporated in 1996 and refinanced and reincorporated in 2006.
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- Sunrise Powerlink runs from California’s Imperial Valley to San Diego.
- The El Dorado Energy Solar project is adjacent to Sempra’s 480-megawatt El Dorado Energy power plant near Boulder City, NV, ~40 miles southeast of Las Vegas.
- The El Dorado Energy Solar project is the largest operational thin-film, solar power plant in North America.
- PG&E is the utility for northern and central California.
- First Solar is based in Phoenix, AZ.
- CPUC voted 4-1 vote to permit Sunrise Powerlink on the grounds it had met basic criteris for environmental protections and is necessary to deliver New Energy to San Diego.
- Sunrise Powerlink will be 120 miles long, running from the state’s central desert, across a segment of the Mountains and down to supply the San Diego Bay population.
- Sunrise Powerlink will cost $1.9 billion and will have a delivery capacity of up to 1,000 megawatts.
- The Stirling installation: 36,000 mirrored 40-foot wide, 38-foot tall dishes focus sunlight on lawn-mower-sized engines heating parts of them to 1,300+ degrees Fahrenheit. In the sealed engine, heated hydrogen expands, drives a piston, migrates, cools, contracts and drives another piston. The action generates electricity. Each dish has a 25 kilowatt capacity. Covering 3 square miles, the installation would produce 900 megawatts of electricity generation, equal to or greater than a large natural-gas plant.
The Stirling project will be built in 2 stages, a 300-megawatt (12,000 dishes) phase before completion of Sunrise Powerlink and a 600-megawatt (24,000 dishes) phase that requires the new transmission.
- Stirling Energy Systems has 20-year power purchase agreements to provide 1,750 megawatts of electricity to California utilities.
- First Solar did engineering, procurement, was construction contractor and will monitor and do maintenance.
- The First Solar thin film semiconductor technology converts sunlight into electricity without air emissions or water use.
- PG&E has a 20-year power purchase agreement for the new project's entire output, subject to approval by the CPUC.
- At peak production El Dorado Energy Solar will generate 10 megawatts of electricity, enough for ~6,400 homes.
- Expansion of El Dorado, in phases, is under consideration.
First Solar's manufacturing capacity is ready to explode. (click to enlarge)
- Debra L. Reed, President/CEO, SDG&E: "The CPUC's approval of the Sunrise Powerlink today will help pave the way toward achieving the state's aggressive environmental and energy policy goals…Reliable transmission infrastructure is critically needed to reinforce the region's electric system and to open up new avenues for delivering green energy to our customers."
- Michael W. Allman, President/CEO, Sempra Generation: "This is a significant step in the development and deployment of renewable solar power…It reflects the commitment by Sempra Generation and western U.S. utilities to meet the challenges posed by climate change with reliable, renewable energy. The size and scope of this new solar generation facility clearly demonstrates that we can build projects on a scale that helps utilities meet their renewable energy goals."
- Jack Keenan, COO, PG&E: "The El Dorado Energy Solar facility will be the first of our contracted solar projects to come online…We are pleased to partner with Sempra Generation as we add renewable resources to our power mix..."