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Interview With BrightSource Energy CEO John Woolard (VIDEO)

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By Sarah Backhouse spoke with John Woolard, CEO of BrightSource Energy, to learn about the Ivanpah solar power facility in the Mojave Desert. The plant will be coming online this summer and will provide energy for 140,000 homes. Ivanpah will generate 392 MW – about half that of a nuclear powerplant – and is the largest solar thermal facility anywhere in the world.

Woolard is pleased that the project is on schedule and on budget two years in, thanks in part to its partners Bechtel and NRG. A challenging aspect of building the plant was permitting early on in the project. Streamlining permitting is one of the most important things for renewables. And then there’s policy. Better policy clarity would help everyone building renewable energy plants and clean energy technologies.

Currently 80% of the energy we produce comes from carbon emitting sources. Woolard spoke of the need to reverse that equation so that 80% will come from zero carbon emitting sources by 2040. In order to do that we need to build effectively a GW a day of zero carbon power. That’s the equivalent of a nuclear power plant worth of zero carbon energy everyday by 2040.

To this would require a broad portfolio of energy sources as anytime you try to focus on a niche, you sub optimize. Woolard spoke of the need to put photovoltaics on rooftops, to look at wind, to look at large scale solar thermal that can help both wind and PV integrate into the grid because it’s got dispatchability and reliability, to look at geothermal and even nuclear. The size and scale of the challenge is very daunting but Woolard is optimistic that we have a bright future ahead.

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