JUNO BEACH, Fla., and SAN FRANCISCO - The push to develop large concentrating solar power (CSP) plants in California gained momentum, as FPL Energy filed an application to build a 250-megawatt CSP plant in the Mojave Desert and the Pacific Gas and Electric Company (PG&E) agreed to buy the power from up to 900 megawatts of CSP projects proposed by BrightSource Energy Inc.

The FPL Energy project, called the Beacon Solar Energy Project, will employ trough-shaped parabolic mirrors to concentrate the sun’s heat, capture the heat in a fluid such as oil, and then transfer that heat to a boiler. The boiler generates steam that drives a turbine to produce electricity. FPL Energy plans to build, own, and operate the facility, which will be located on 2,000 acres of land in eastern Kern County. Construction is slated to begin late next year, and it will take about two years to build the project, which will consist of more than 500,000 parabolic mirrors.

Meanwhile, PG&E has signed contracts with BrightSource Energy to buy at least 500 megawatts of power from three CSP facilities. BrightSource submitted an application to the California Energy Commission (CEC) last year to build Ivanpah 1, 2, and 3 in the Mojave Desert, with the first two units each producing 100 megawatts of power and the third unit producing 200 megawatts of power. Ivanpah 1 is slated to begin operating in 2011 and will use a field of flat mirrors, or “heliostats,” to focus the sun’s heat on a receiver mounted on a tower. A fluid pumped through the tower carries the heat to a boiler. This “power tower” technology was developed by the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) and demonstrated at a facility near Barstow, Calif., in the 1980s and 1990s. If BrightSource is successful with its initial power tower installations, PG&E has an option of buying another 400 megawatts of power from additional CSP facilities.

Publication date:04/21/2008