Concentrated solar surge begins in southwest

October 6, 2010

The image, from, is a recreation of what one of the final arrays might look like.

The image, from, is a recreation of what one of the final arrays might look like.

The leading edge of a big solar energy wave is beginning to hit in the desert Southwest. CAP’s Tom Kenworthy has the story. The image, from, is a recreation of what one of the final arrays might look like.

The Department of Interior today announced final approval of two large solar energy projects in southern California that will produce 754 megawatts of clean renewable energy to power more than a quarter million homes and create almost 300 permanent jobs and about 700 construction jobs.

The Tessera Solar Imperial Valley Solar Project in Imperial County and the Chevron Lucerne Valley Solar Project in San Bernardino County that got the final go-ahead are the first two solar projects ever approved for federal lands in the U.S. And more are coming in the next few months as the federal Bureau of Land Management (BLM) expedites approvals for other projects in time to secure funding under the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA). The California Energy Commission is also rapidly approving new projects, some on BLM land and some on private property. Since July, the two agencies have given final or preliminary approval to nine large solar projects that together will bring more than 4,000 megawatts of clean, renewable power on-line in coming years, enough to power about 1.2 million homes. They include the Blythe Solar Power Project in California’s Riverside County, at 1,000 megwatts the world’s largest solar project.

Tessara Solar’s project, the largest of the two that were issued records of decision under the BLM’s environmental impact study process, uses SunCatcher mirrors to concentrate solar energy, and has a capacity of 709 megawatts. Concentrated solar, at utility scale, is a core climate solution. The Chevron project, is a smaller, 45 megawatt conventional solar photovoltaic panel system.

“This is a historic day for America,” Interior Secretary Ken Salazar said in a conference call with media announcing the approvals. “We have opened up a new chapter on renewble energy.”

The Imperial Valley project will use more than 6,300 acres of BLM land, a somewhat smaller footprint than originally planned. The reduction, and Tessera’s acquisition of another 6,600 acres for conservation purposes, followed negotiations with conservation groups and other parties to reduce the project’s environmental impacts.

Under ARRA, the two projects can apply for federal payments in lieu of 30% tax credits, $273 million for the Imperial Valley project and $31 million for the Chevron project.

The two solar projects will help California make progress toward achieving a 33% renewable energy standard by 2020, when it wil require up to 20,000 megawatts of renewable energy.

Tom Kenworthy is a Senior Fellow with CAP’s Energy Opportunity Team.

October 6, 2010 at 11:02 am

It just shows what could be done if there was the political will to challenge the vested economic interests. I seem to recall that Roosevelt simply summoned Big Business plutocrats after Pearl Harbor, and told them what to do. As we all know, the threat from ecological collapse so far outweighs that of Germany and Japan as to bear no comparison. I’m afraid that the kleptocracy in the USA is today more powerful and more deranged, and Obama is certainly no Roosevelt. In fact, during what looks like the brief further history of the USA, and the rest of us,I imagine that Obama will be judged even worse than Bush the Lesser, both for his failed policies and for his betrayal of so much ill-directed ‘hope’ that was invested in his ascendancy.

October 6, 2010 at 11:05 am

It certainly seems that clean energy is ready to advance rapidly, despite all of the blocking efforts.

October 6, 2010 at 12:51 pm

Historic day for America!

A new chapter [for] renewable energy!

This is also important for California because these two facilities will help that state meet its clean energy goals set by the Global Warming Solutions Act of 2006, also known as AB 32. The same law that a couple of Texas oil companies are trying to kill.

The Imperial Valley project is a concentrating solar design that will boil water to produce electricity. That will require the construction of a 6 inch pipeline more than 3 miles long. No mention if the water will be recycled; I certainly hope this facility will be sustainable over the long term.

The other project is a totally sustainable PV facility that is being constructed by Chevron Energy Solutions, a subsidiary of the California based Chevron oil company.

October 6, 2010 at 1:55 pm

This is a watershed moment in the future of renewable energy.

October 6, 2010 at 5:31 pm

Concentrated Solar Power (CSP) (heating a working fluid which is then used for a conventional power plant) might be cost effective for utilities to make power from the sun, but it doesn’t advance the progress of photovoltaics (PV).

PV systems, as the efficiency continues to go up and the costs continue to come down, will eventually be everywhere. This is the more important technology, ultimately. PV on almost every roof is quite possible this century – CSP on every roof is not. PV can also be put on the sides of buildings, on roads, parking lots, anywhere there is enough sun.

I’d rather see $billions being spent on utility scale PV, to advance the entire industy. But CSP is fine for the short term…

[JR: No. Read the links. CSP can easily integrate low-cost high-efficiency storage, which PV can’t. CSP will likely generate as much solar energy this century as PV, if not more.]

October 6, 2010 at 11:18 pm

Using salt water as a liquid in the turbines of solar towers would be well done as the added benefit would be to produce fresh water for nearby area. Granted one must have access to ocean water, so it’s not for steep coasts. Of course the salt accumulation will be a problem for materials used.

October 6, 2010 at 11:55 pm

Ah – I hadn’t followed the link core climate solution and its links.

Just read the Salon article on CSP you wrote – looks like I have to look into this some more. Having the heat stored in molten salts or oils (or even water) for hours was an advantage over PV I hadn’t considered… I’ll see how these systems are working out in Spain and elsewhere (maintenance, expected lifetimes, etc.)

I still hope the PV industry continues to progress at a fast rate – but I suppose if Utilities get behind CSP, which seems like a good idea, it might very well produce more power than PV this century.

October 7, 2010 at 2:31 am

Apologies if I missed it, but I do not see any reference to the amount of energy these installations will generate or reference to the amount of storage in the CSP installation. Just quoting maximum output in MWe or even worse the number of homes that may be powered is not the whole story and not especially useful. Either an estimated capacity factor or estimated yearly output in GWh is essential.

October 7, 2010 at 5:14 am

Quokka is quite right that the amount of MW is rather misleading, since a kWp (kilowatt peak) from a PV is something quite different from a kW of a coal or nuclear plant.

Depending on the location, in the US (e.g. Great Basin) PV can produce close to 2000 kWh active energy per kWp a year. Which is about a quarter of what a kW of a coal plant or a nuclear plant produces.

Nevertheless 4.000 planned MW is quite an impressive number for a single state. The best way to accelerate PV growth, however, is a guaranteed feed-in-tariff. That way people can invest in PV with a guaranteed RoI, paid for by a moderate (10%) increase in the price of power to share the costs.

October 9, 2010 at 2:57 pm

What might be really exciting would be retrofitting the skyscrapers of advanced cities with concentrated solar thermal rapidly reducing their environmental footprints.