CEC Approves Ninth California Solar Project in Four Months!

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California regulators have just approved yet another 650 MW of solar thermal power for the state.

The California Energy Commission (CEC) has voted to license the 500-MW Palen project and the 150-MW Rice  project in Southern California, which now brings to nine the number of solar thermal power projects approved in the last four months.

Altogether the solar projects comprise 4,142.5MW of solar thermal power to be added to the California grid and will provide more than 8,000 jobs in initial construction, and then more than 1,000 ongoing jobs in operations.

Both projects still require decisions in 2011 from the federal Bureau of Land Management, which approves the use of federal public lands, before they can proceed. The Rice project also requires approval from the Western Area Power Administration. But with the CEC approval before December 31st, they qualify for federal stimulus funds.

Both projects are solar thermal.
Unlike solar PV, utility-scale solar thermal projects basically work the same way as traditional power plants: driven by steam-powered turbines, except using just the sun’s power to heat a liquid. (Instead of burning gas, coal or oil).

The more interesting and novel of the two is the brainchild of (literally) rocket scientists. The Rice Solar Energy Project about 40 miles northwest of Blythe in eastern Riverside County, has storage included, using molten salt, so that it will be able to keep sending solar power into the night.

A large field of mirrors concentrates and focuses the sun’s energy onto a central receiver high up on a tower. Solar energy is captured and retained in the molten salt heat transfer fluid. That gets routed to heat exchangers to heat water and produce steam, which generates electricity in a conventional steam turbine cycle. The molten salt stores heat long after the sun goes down, so it can keep driving turbines after sunset.

The 500 MW Palen Solar Power Project is part owned by Chevron, making it a first for an oil company. It uses the solar parabolic trough to focus the radiation on a receiver tube located at the focal point of the parabola. A heat transfer fluid (HTF) is heated to high temperature (750 degrees Fahrenheit) as it circulates through the receiver tubes. The heated HTF is then piped through a series of heat exchangers where it releases its stored heat to generate high-pressure steam. The steam is then fed to a traditional steam turbine generator where electricity is produced.

The other seven projects the CEC approved in an unprecedented burst since August are Abengoa’s Mojave (250 MW), Beacon Solar (250 MW),  Tessera Solar’s Calico Project (663.5 MW) Genesis Solar (250 MW), the (using the Stirling technology)  Imperial Valley Solar (709 MW) Brightsource’s Ivanpah SEGS (370 MW), and the world’s largest solar thermal project: Blythe Solar Millennium (1,000 MW).

Can’t wait for all of us Californians to get powered by our big blue skies!

Image: Ben Neine
Susan Kraemer@Twitter

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