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New 20-MW Solar Thermal Plant Eats its Own Energy

GDT Tek solar thermal plant in California harvests waste energy

The solar company GDT Tek is planning a 20-megawatt solar array in Desert Hot Springs, California, and the design indicates how the solar industry is heading toward a business model that squeezes every ounce of energy out of the available land. Part of GDT’s 109-acre property will be reserved for a pilot solar thermal plant based on the company’s waste heat-to-energy conversion technology. Overall, the company estimates that its system will be about 40 percent more cost-efficient than a conventional solar array.

Land grab for prime solar power sites

The price of land suitable for solar installations is  spiking up in some areas, according to an article cited by GDT Tek president Bo Linton. Easy access to existing infrastructure, including roads and a power grid, are two factors. That makes it all the more important for the solar industry to come up with new high-efficiency technologies that make the real estate investment pay off. In a press statement Linton said:

“We made this land purchase at a great time. There was an article last week in the LA Times stating these type of properties are now starting to gobbled up at 10-20 fold what they were worth a few years ago. We are also looking into using wind power on the land as well. We plan to get as many megawatts out of the land per acre as possible.”

Solar thermal waste-to-energy cogeneration

GDT’s pilot plant is a closed loop system, in which a liquid is heated to a gas that powers a turbine, and is then re-condensed into liquid. The company’s precision technology enables the system to operate at a relatively low temperature ranging from 200 degrees Fahrenheit to a maximum of 220 degrees. As for whether or not the system is significantly more cost efficient than a conventional photovoltaic panels, by installing its solar thermal system alongside a PV array, GDT hopes that the “proof will show right on the meters for the entire world to see.”

The cogeneration twofer

Though not quite on the scale of the massive DESERTEC solar thermal project, GDT’s cogeneration technology has some interesting applications, sustainably speaking, for scavenging waste heat from…other harvested alternative energy sources. One example is a San Jose landfill where GDT has been capturing waste heat from a landfill gas-to-energy engine and converting it to electricity. The company is also involved in an ambitious $23 million venture to install similar landfill gas systems at several locations in the Bay Area, which are estimated to squeeze an additional 9 megawatts out of the existing methane capture systems.

Image: License Attribution Some rights reserved by Jacob Rickard.

Follow Tina Casey on Twitter: @TinaMCasey.

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Written By

Tina specializes in military and corporate sustainability, advanced technology, emerging materials, biofuels, and water and wastewater issues. Views expressed are her own. Follow her on Twitter @TinaMCasey and Google+.


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