Tag Archives: Solar Thermal

A Huge Solar Plant Caught on Fire, and That’s the Least of Its Problems

By Sarah Zhang, WIRED

Ivanpah, the world’s largest solar plant, is a glittering sea of mirrors, concentrating sunlight into three glowing towers. It is a futuristic vision rising out of the Mojave desert. But from the day the plant opened for business in 2014, critics have said the technology at Ivanpah is outdated and too finicky to maintain.

The latest problem? A fire at one of the plant’s three towers on Thursday, which left metal pipes scorched and melted. As the plant dealt with engineering hiccups, Ivanpah initially struggled to fulfill its electricity contract, and it would have had to shut down if the California Public Utilities Commission didn’t throw it a bone this past March. “Ivanpah has been such a mess,” says Adam Schultz, program manager at the UC Davis Energy Institute and former analyst for the CPUC. “If [the fire] knocks them offline, it’s going to further dig them in.” On top of the technical challenges, the plant has had to deal with PR headaches like reports of scorched birds and blinded pilots from its mirrors.

Ivanpah’s biggest problem, though, is hard economics. When the plant was just a proposal in 2007, the cost of electricity made using Ivanpah’s concentrated solar power was roughly the same as that from photovoltaic solar panels. Since then, the cost of electricity from photovoltaic solar panels has plummeted to 6 cents per kilowatt-hour (compared to 15 to 20 cents for concentrated solar power) as materials have gotten cheaper. “You’re not going to see the same thing with concentrated solar power plants because it’s mostly just a big steel and glass project,” says Schultz. It can only get so much cheaper.

Read full article at WIRED

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California Is Building The Country’s Largest Solar Desalination Plant

By Adele Peters, Fast Co.Exist

If you want to take a shower or wash dishes in East Porterville, California, you’ll probably have to use a bucket. The water stopped running in most houses over a year ago. But nearby, farmers are paying to get rid of around 300 billion gallons of water a year.

The paradox is a result of a geological quirk of the area: Soil in the Central Valley is full of natural salt. That creates problems every time a farmer irrigates a field—the extra-salty runoff can harm both land and wildlife, so water districts have to deal with it. But desalination can turn the runoff from a problem into a valuable resource.

A new solar-powered desalination plant, which will likely begin construction early next year in Fresno County, will make enough water for 10,000 homes or 2,000 acres of cropland in a year.

Read full article from Fast Co.Exist

California’s huge solar projects causing energy poverty

By Thomas D. Elias, The Los Angeles Daily News

When ex-Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger and former Interior Secretary Ken Salazar made their way onto a hot, dry alkali flat just west of the Interstate 15 freeway between Barstow and Las Vegas in late 2010, all anyone knew for sure was that they were opening an era of giantism in solar electricity in California. What no one could predict was that they were also putting a stamp of approval on the spread of energy poverty in many parts of this state.

The Ivanpah dry lake on which the two former officials proudly strode that day now hosts a huge solar farm easily visible as a glassy sea of deep blue to travelers just southwest of the California-Nevada state line. Ivanpah, built largely with federal loans, is the second-largest of half a dozen desert-region solar thermal developments that produce many thousands of megawatts for privately-owned utilities like Southern California Edison Co., Pacific Gas & Electric Co. and San Diego Gas & Electric Co.

Besides paying for the energy produced by those plants, including construction costs, the big utilities have erected hundreds of miles of power transmission lines to bring the sun’s energy to big cities in all parts of California. When they do that, they receive about 14 percent profit on their constructions costs each year for 20 years.

The solar farms are part of a plan first adopted by executive order by Schwarzenegger and later expanded on by current Gov. Jerry Brown. By 2020, California is to produce one-third of its electricity from renewable sources. By 2030, that’s supposed to rise to one-half. Of course, the current four-year drought has tossed a wrench into some of the calculations behind those mandates, causing enormous cuts in the power produced by hydroelectric dams for more than a century.

Read full article in the Los Angeles Daily News

Are Solar Power Towers Doomed in California?

By Chris Clarke, Rewire

It used to be the future of solar. From the time the 10-megawatt Solar One project rose east of Barstow in 1981, renewable energy advocates imagined that California’s solar future would look a lot like Solar One, a tower with a bright white boiler on top, illuminated by sunlight reflected from more than 1,700 large mirrors arranged in concentric circles around the tower’s base.

Now, California generates more solar electricity than at any point in its history. With a new mandate that the state get half its electrical power from renewables by the end of 2030, solar’s role in California is only going to get bigger. And yet solar power tower technology seems to be languishing. Of 11,535 megawatts of solar generating capacity installed in the state by the end of last year, solar power towers account for just 397 megawatts: about three percent of the state’s solar.

Things have turned so sour for solar power tower technology that in August, the company behind the only power tower project being proposed for the state of California announced it wants to build the plant using a different technology. That means there are no new solar tower plants on the drawing board for California. How did this once-popular technology fall on such hard times? Solar generating capacity using other technologies has been burgeoning in California, with more than 4,300 megawatts worth of both photovoltaic and parabolic trough technology installed in the state in 2014 alone: more than 10 times the total amount of solar power tower capacity in California.

Read full article from Rewire

Beyond batteries: The diverse technologies vying for the bulk storage market

By Herman K. Trabish, Utility Dive

All the talk in the electric utility industry these days seems to be about battery storage, but there are other ways to save generated electricity for later.

With more demanding state renewable portfolio standards, the finalization of the EPA’s Clean Power Plan and utilities increasingly turning to renewables as a least-cost option, grid operators are likely to need more and bigger storage options by the mid-2020s, if not before.

“The excitement in the market now is around the policies we have in place, which very specifically exclude big pumped hydro applications,” explained California Energy Storage Alliance (CESA) Sr. Advisor Mark Higgins, the VP/COO at Strategen Consulting. “Those policies were designed to create a diversity of technologies. Bulk storage would work against that.”

But, Higgins said, by around 2024, when California gets to about 40% renewables, there will be a real need to shift excess renewable energy supplies from the middle of the day to the late afternoon and evening. “That will require storage resources that can handle big amounts of energy over long periods of time.” Higgins expects California regulators to again take the lead, as they did with the AB 2514 policy now driving battery technology growth, and put in place incentives for long duration storage technologies. Following is an overview of some of the diverse technologies vying for the bulk storage market…

Read full article from Utility Dive

California Achieves New Utility-Scale Solar Energy Generation Peak Of 6.391 GW

By James Ayre, CleanTechnica

The state of California has achieved a new electricity generation peak record for utility-scale solar energy, according to recent reports. The new record of 6.391 gigawatts (alternating current, not direct current) was achieved on August 20, 2015, according to California’s grid operator. This figure refers to both utility-scale solar photovoltaic (PV) projects and concentrating solar power (CSP) projects.

While the 6.391 GW figure includes both utility-scale solar PV and CSP projects, it doesn’t include the output of distributed solar energy system output (so-called “behind-the-meter” electricity generation). GTM Research has previously estimated a figure of 3.2 GW of total distributed solar system capacity in California for Quarter 1, 2015 — so, assuming that’s correct, and that peak generation sometimes approaches peak capacity for distributed, then the total peak figure could actually be as much as 50% higher.

Read full article from CleanTechnica

Solar Desalination Could be a Game Changer for California Farms

By Sandra Postel (Director, Global Water Policy Project; National Geographic’s Freshwater Initiative Fellow), National Geographic

Let’s be clear from the outset: I’m no fan of conventional desalination. The idea of using climate-altering fossil fuels to drive an energy-intensive de-salting process that threatens coastal environments in order to produce drinking water that, in most cases, could be secured more cheaply through conservation and efficiency improvements, simply fails to pass the bar of economically sensible, environmentally sound solutions to our water problems.

But now desalination of a very different stripe is under way – not by the sea, but in California’s drought-stricken Central Valley farming region. The project is turning salty, contaminated agricultural drainage into fresh water that can be re-used to irrigate crops. Powered not by fossil fuels, but by the sun, the technology has the potential to shift the way water is used and managed in parts of the west, where agriculture accounts for 70-80 percent of water use.

Developed by a San Francisco-based company called WaterFX, the solar desalination unit has been piloted in the Panoche Water District in Fresno County. Farmers in the area grow a wide variety of crops, including almonds, asparagus, tomatoes, pistachios, cotton, alfalfa and wheat. The district is located on the valley’s west side, where farm drainage contains not only high levels of salt, but also selenium, a naturally occurring element that is essential in trace amounts but poisonous at high concentrations.

WaterFX’s “Aqua4” system offers a way of addressing both mounting water shortages and critical contamination problems. The technology uses parabolic mirrors to concentrate the sun’s energy, heating a tube that then distills fresh water out of the salty drainage. It’s an age-old process made far more efficient with modern technology. The system can produce 200 acre-feet (65 million gallons) of water per acre of solar collection area, making it, according to WaterFX, the most efficient solar desalination system available.

Read full article at National Geographic

California’s First Commercial Solar Desalination Plant to Bring Freshwater to the Central Valley

HydroRevolution, a California subsidiary of WaterFX, today announced plans to build a commercial solar desalination plant in the Panoche Water and Drainage District in California’s Central Valley. Once constructed, HydroRevolution will provide a highly sustainable water source to local water districts by using solar energy to recycle salt impaired water into freshwater. This technology will be the first of its kind in the Central Valley.  The plant will be an expansion of the demonstration plant operated by in the Panoche District in 2013.

The new plant will be built on 35 acres of land currently farmed with salt-tolerant crops, with the potential of growing to a 70-acre site. The system is a concentrated solar still that uses large solar arrays to capture solar thermal energy from the sun. The plant will ultimately be able to generate up to 5,000 acre-feet of water per year, enough water for 10,000 homes or 2,000 acres of cropland. All freshwater generated will be made available to Panoche and other nearby water districts.

Read full press release from WaterFX

CPUC Shines Spotlight on Solar Program Success

The California Public Utilities Commission (CPUC) has released its annual report to the California State Legislature on the progress of the California Solar Initiative (CSI) program. The agency announced that consumer solar installations in California continued to increase in 2014, largely without rebate incentives, demonstrating that the state’s CSI program has substantially reached its goal of stimulating widespread adoption of solar energy and creating a self-sustaining market.

Highlights of the June 2015 California Solar Initiative Annual Program Assessment include:

  • Through the end of 2014, an estimated 2,529 MW of solar capacity has been installed on the customer side of the meter (including projects that didn’t receive CSI program incentives) at 302,266 customer sites in California.
  • In 2014, California installed a record 670 MW of customer-sited solar energy capacity, achieving a 31 percent annual growth from the capacity installed in 2013. The majority of these solar energy systems did not receive any CSI program rebates, as Pacific Gas and Electric Company, Southern California Edison, and San Diego Gas & Electric are no longer offering residential rebates because they have either installed or reserved enough solar capacity to meet their residential CSI program goals.
  • Between the last quarter of 2008 and the last quarter of 2014, the average cost of installed residential systems has decreased 53 percent from $10.87 per watt to $5.14 per watt. In the same time period, non-residential system costs have decreased 62 percent from an average of $10.30 per watt to $3.93 per watt.
  • All but 254 MW, or 9 percent, of customer-sited solar energy systems interconnected into the grid in the large investor-owned utility territories are enrolled in Net Energy Metering.
  • To date, the CSI General Market program has installed 1,647 megawatts (MW), or 94 percent of its 1,750 MW goal, and will surpass its goal with another 258 MW waiting in pending projects.
  • The CSI Single-Family Affordable Solar Homes (SASH) program has completed a total of 4,499 projects, representing 13.6 MW of installed capacity. There are an additional 316 SASH projects in progress, with a total capacity of 1 MW.
  • The CSI Multifamily Affordable Solar Housing (MASH) program has completed 349 projects, representing 23.2 MW of installed capacity.  There are an additional 41 MASH projects in progress, with a total capacity of 6.3 MW.
  • In just over five years of operation, the CSI Thermal program has approved 2,585 applications for solar water heating systems, totaling $33.7 million in incentives of the available $205 million CSI Thermal incentive budget.
  • The CSI Research, Development, Demonstration and Deployment program has conducted five project solicitations since its inception, resulting in grant funding for 36 projects, totaling $44.4 million. Funded projects have focused on the following areas: integration of solar photovoltaics into the electricity grid; energy generation technologies and business development; and grid integration and production technologies.

Read full press release from the California Public Utilities Commission

 

 

Solar Thermal Desalination Now Underway in Water-hungry California

By Susan Kraemer, Renewable Energy World

Regional droughts are being exacerbated by climate change. Israel, Australia, and now southern California have all turned to expensive energy-guzzling seawater desalination projects after historic droughts.

The controversial Carlsbad desalination project’s latest projected cost is now $1 billion. It will suck in 100 million gallons of San Diego’s seawater a day and force it through a series of filters to produce 50 million gallons of water a day using high-pressure reverse osmosis.

A modest solar thermal desalination alternative now quietly undergoing permitting inland would produce 5 million gallons of water, about one tenth of that of Carlsbad, but at a much lower cost of just $30 million, using a solar distillation process.

WaterFX will use a 24-MW trough-type solar thermal field supplied by NREL-collaborator SkyFuel to create direct steam from the sun to run multi-effect distillation, desalinating enough agricultural water for reuse to keep 2,000 acres of farmland irrigated each year.

Read full article from Renewable Energy World