Joseph Desmond: “Instead of using fossil fuels to create the steam, BrightSource uses the sun.”

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The Beam interview series, edition 10: Joseph Desmond

To lighten up your week and give you even more energizing thoughts, we publish interviews from our partner The Beam twice a week.

The Beam takes a modern perspective at the energy transition, interviewing inspirational people from around the world that shape our sustainable energy future.

This week, Anne-Sophie Garrigou, journalist at The Beam, interviewed Joseph Desmond, Senior Vice President of Marketing and Government Affairs for BrightSource Energy, a company founded in 2006 which became a leader in solar thermal technology. By concentrating the sun’s energy, the company produces high-value steam for electric power, petroleum and process markets worldwide. We talked to Joseph Desmond about BrightSource Energy’s vision and aspiration to build a carbon-free future.


The Beam: At BrightSource Energy, you have developed a solar thermal energy system. Can you explain to us what it means and how it works?

Joseph Desmond: BrightSource Energy designs, develops and deploys solar thermal technology to produce high-value electricity and steam for power, petroleum and industrial-process markets worldwide. BrightSource combines breakthrough technology with world-class solar power plant design capabilities to generate clean energy reliably and responsibly. BrightSource’s solar thermal systems are designed to minimize impact on the environment and help customers reduce their dependence on fossil fuels.

Our solar thermal energy systems generate power the same was as traditional power plants — by creating high temperature steam to turn a turbine. However, instead of using fossil fuels to create the steam, BrightSource uses the sun.

At the heart of BrightSource’s proprietary solar thermal system is a state-of-the-art solar field design, optimization software and a control system that allow for the creation of high-temperature steam. Thousands of software-controlled mirrors track the sun in two dimensions and reflect the sunlight to a boiler that sits atop a tower. When the concentrated sunlight strikes the solar receiver, it heats water to create superheated steam. The steam is either piped from the boiler to a conventional steam turbine to produce electricity, where transmission lines will carry the power to homes and businesses, or the steam is used in industrial process applications such as thermal enhanced oil recovery (EOR).

By integrating conventional power block components, such as turbines, with our proprietary technology and state-of-the-art solar field design, electric power plants using our systems can deliver cost-competitive, reliable and clean power when needed most.

We can also integrate proven molten salt storage of hybridize with a fossil fuel, further increasing output and reliability, and significantly reducing energy costs.

What does it take to realize carbon-free energy?

There are many forms of renewable support structures available and what is effective for one country may not be as effective for another. The choices depend on the policy objectives of the government and the type of investment behavior the government wishes to incentivize. Additionally, development costs for the same technology can vary geographically, including by permitting jurisdiction and by applicable labour rates.

Regardless of the support mechanism, however, it’s policy consistency and clarity that most effectively builds confidence and attracts capital.

Read the entire interview here.

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The Beam

The Beam Magazine is an independent climate solutions and climate action magazine. It tells about the most exciting solutions, makes a concrete contribution to eliminating climate injustices and preserving this planet for all of us in its diversity and beauty. Our cross-country team of editors works with a network of 150 local journalists in 50 countries talking to change makers and communities. THE BEAM is published in Berlin and distributed in nearly 1,000 publicly accessible locations, to companies, organizations and individuals in 40 countries across the world powered by FairPlanet.

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