US Concentrated Solar Power Firms Ramp Up To Gigawatt Scale

Sign up for daily news updates from CleanTechnica on email. Or follow us on Google News!

Three US-based Concentrated Solar Power (CSP) startups are now making the leap to gigawatt-scale CSP projects at the global level.

Two — SolarReserve and BrightSource Energy — were recipients of Department of Energy federal support through the Loan Guarantee Program and subsequent ARPA-E awards for R&D that helped them refine their innovative technologies. The third, Glasspoint Solar, took a different approach.


Santa Monica–based SolarReserve has just announced its gigawatt-scale Sandstone Energy 10X (10-tower) project in Nevada, a 2 gigawatt (GW), $5 billion CSP project expected online in 2021.

Image Credit: SolarReserve

At 2 GW (2,000 MW) Sandstone will have 20 times the capacity of its current 110 MW Crescent Dunes project. This raises dispatchable solar to the scale of the Hoover Dam, Nevada’s other ambitious gigawatt-scale renewable generation.

But the Sandstone Energy project is not even the first gigawatt-scale CSP project that SolarReserve has announced this year — it’s actually the third.

In May: SolarReserve signed MOUs in China to develop 2 GW of CSP towers in a joint partnership with two large generators in China, including the Shenhua Group, China’s largest coal company. (Other than the solar-harvesting heliostat field, a CSP plant is identical to any other thermal plant in its “back end” power block, so there are many opportunities to apply coal-plant building expertise to CSP construction.)

In September: SolarReserve proposed an 800 MW, six tower CSP project at Port Augusta in Australia, where a coal plant closing has left locals rooting for this CSP proposal to replace those coal plant jobs in an unusual example of reverse-NIMBYism.

In October: Sandstone Energy is the third gigawatt-scale CSP project announced by SolarReserve. Sandstone would export solar energy to the California grid from the vast deserts of Nevada.

Chip in a few dollars a month to help support independent cleantech coverage that helps to accelerate the cleantech revolution!

The scale of the change has massive implications for clean energy storage. Sandstone will be, as SolarReserve CEO Kevin Smith put it, “all about storage.” SolarReserve’s technology, developed in California, combines solar harvesting with cost-effective thermal energy storage in molten salt tanks. (See how CSP can make solar dispatchable any time.)

SolarReserve’s initial 110 MW Crescent Dunes project included 10 hours of storage, 1,100 MWh daily. Redstone — its second CSP project in South Africa — has 1,200 MWh of daily storage.

Sandstone will dwarf not just SolarReserve’s previous CSP energy storage capacity, but also what has been touted as the largest battery on the US grid, which will add only 400 MWh. Sandstone will have 20,000 MWh of storage.

The AES battery that was bid into SCE’s storage tender in 2015 is due online in 2021, at the same time as SolarReserve’s Sandstone project. The AES battery is much touted as “the world’s largest storage project” but is clearly much less than Sandstone’s 20,000 MWh — just 100 MW for 4 hours, or 400 MWh.

Smith expects that the price for the dispatchable, anytime solar generated by Sandstone would be under 10 cents per kWh, and now that Crescent Dunes is operating, his company has plenty of debt and equity financing to choose from.

At this point, his team is narrowing down to one of two sites in Nye County with access to transmission over the border, with an eye on resolving the “duck curve” in the California market.

Interestingly, this incredible jump to the gigawatt-scale CSP in SolarReserve’s projects this year is mirrored by another US CSP company, Glasspoint Solar.

Glasspoint Solar

Fremont-based Glasspoint is now constructing its 1 GW CSP project, Miraah (mirror in Arabic) to extract the last of the oil from under the sands of Oman in the Middle East, using solar-generated steam for “enhanced oil recovery” (EOR). Prior to Miraah, Glasspoint had built a tiny 7 MW pilot to demonstrate the concept.

Image Credit: Glasspoint Solar
Image Credit: Glasspoint Solar

Glasspoint’s astounding gigawatt-scale CSP jump is from 7 MW to 1,000 MW.

Glasspoint had made a decision early on to bypass the electricity market altogether, with its lengthy permitting and regulatory requirements, and use CSP simply to make steam for industries.

The strategy was to specialize at first in the oil industry, rather than in providing district heating or greenhouse heating for agriculture, because the oil industry can pay from their “healthy balance sheet and deep pockets.” (Obviously, the balance sheet is not so healthy today, so maybe other applications are in the future.)

The 1 GW project for Petroleum Development Oman (PDO) at Amal West oil field will cost a mere $600 million — a much lower cost than CSP with the power block needed for using CSP for electricity — and will enable solar EOR at half the cost of gas.

Here’s what makes Glasspoint’s technology so much cheaper than gas and also cheaper than electricity-generating CSP:

There is actually no power block at all. No turbines, no heat exchangers, just mirrors to focus the sunlight on to pipes to carry the boiling water and create steam.

While any fossil fuel has to be burned in order to boil water in a power block to make steam, in Mirrah, it is just the passive action of the sunlight reflected and focused by the parabolic trough onto the pipes that is sufficient to boil the water in the pipes to create steam, which is then injected into the oil wells to push out the last dregs of oil.

Higher steam temperatures are needed for electricity generation, but the 310°F steam Glasspoint makes with no power block is perfectly adequate for EOR. The Miraah project comprises 36 independent, standalone, 50,000 square meter greenhouses that can be deployed as single units or in multiples.

Because the parabolic troughs are sheltered inside the greenhouses, they don’t need to withstand corrosive sand or high winds. So they are just 10% of the weight of regular parabolic troughs, which makes them cheaper.

Glasspoint also saves money by putting the super light parabolic troughs inside standard commercial greenhouses. Standard robotic cleaners also clean the exterior glass at night to keep it at optimal clarity.

“One of the reasons we’re so excited about this project is now that we’re on the tipping point, we’re on the right side of the curve; velocity is going to deliver manufacturing that will drive ongoing cost reductions, which is then going to open these other markets,” Glasspoint VP of Business Development, John O’Donnell told CleanTechnica.

Since Glasspoint based its business plan on selling “a product, not a project” to the richest industry in the world, it had no need for US government support to get started, but it has since been underwritten by the Oman government.

BrightSource Energy

BrightSource Energy is also now scaling up to gigawatt-scale CSP — working with China. Its 810 MW Delingha CSP project is less of a jump for BrightSource, however, as its first CSP project for grid electricity, Ivanpah, was already a three-tower CSP project at nearly 400 MW (392 MW). After a shaky start, Ivanpah is now quietly delivering its contracted electricity to the California grid.


Image Credit: BrightSource Energy

Like SolarReserve, BrightSource was selected by China’s National Energy Administration (NEA) to contribute to its very ambitious plans to rapidly deploy 10 GW of CSP with storage by 2021. China’s NEA has first commissioned 1 GW of pilots.

BrightSource’s Delingha CSP tower was one of 20 projects chosen by the NEA  to participate in the pilot program. The pilot projects comprising the first gigawatt will receive an initially higher tariff to jumpstart the development of a CSP industrial supply chain in China.

Just one of six 135 MW towers that will make up the Huanghe Qinghai Delingha Solar Thermal Power Generation Project (an 810 MW CSP project in the Qinghai province) is to be in the pilot. Unlike at Ivanpah, a direct steam CSP tower project without storage, Delingha will include molten salt storage modeled on the technology proved at the BrightSource demonstration site in Israel.

California did not require that the first CSP projects in the US include the cheap thermal storage that is the best argument for tower technology, but China is learning from those first projects and is requiring storage in all of the projects. By 2021, China plans 10 GW of CSP.

Have a tip for CleanTechnica? Want to advertise? Want to suggest a guest for our CleanTech Talk podcast? Contact us here.

Latest CleanTechnica.TV Video

CleanTechnica uses affiliate links. See our policy here.