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04/12/2011 12:06 PM     print story email story  

Google Invests $168M in BrightSource's Ivanpah Solar Thermal Project News

Solar thermal energy company BrightSource Energy, Inc., announced today that Google (Nasdaq: GOOG) has contributed $168 million to the financing of the Ivanpah Solar Electric Generating System.

BrightSource said it has now closed the financing for the project, which includes the finalization of $1.6 billion in loans guaranteed by the U.S. Department of Energy's Loan Programs Office.

Ivanpah is the world's largest solar project under construction and when completed in 2013 will nearly double the amount of solar thermal electricity produced in the U.S. today.

Google joins NRG Solar LLC (NYSE: NRG) and Alstom (ALO.PA) as a major equity investor in the project. In October 2010, NRG Solar LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of NRG Energy, announced its commitment to invest up to $300 million to become the lead investor in the project. NRG's investment commitment coincided with BrightSource's engineering partner, Bechtel, commencing construction on the project.

"The DOE's decision to support Ivanpah with a loan guarantee is proof that large scale solar projects are moving to the forefront of our nation's clean energy alternatives. Likewise, we welcome the decision of Google, as one of the foremost ‘thought leaders' in corporate America, to embrace this cutting edge clean energy technology through their equity investment in this project," said David Crane, President and CEO, NRG Energy.

"We're excited to be making our largest clean energy investment to date. With this investment, we're helping to deploy the first commercial plant of a potentially transformative solar technology able to deliver clean energy at scale," said Rick Needham, Director of Green Business Operations at Google. "Ivanpah will be the largest solar power tower project in the world, able to produce clean electricity at the highest efficiency of any solar thermal plant. We hope it can serve as a proof point and spur further investment in this exciting technology."

The Ivanpah project is located on approximately 3,500 acres of federal land managed by the U.S. Department of the Interior's Bureau of Land Management (BLM). The project is a 392 gross-megawatt solar power facility consisting of three separate solar thermal power plants. When constructed, the project will produce enough clean energy to power 140,000 homes.

The power generated from these solar plants will be sold under separate contracts with Pacific Gas and Electric (PG&E) and Southern California Edison (SCE). PG&E will purchase approximately two-thirds of the power generated at Ivanpah and SCE will purchase approximately one-third. In all, BrightSource has contracted with PG&E and SCE to deliver approximately 2,600 megawatts of electric power.

The project received its state permits from the California Energy Commission and federal permits from the BLM in September and October 2010, respectively.

BrightSource's LPT 550 solar thermal technology produces electricity the same way as traditional power plants--by creating high temperature steam to turn a turbine. However, instead of using fossil fuels or nuclear power to create the steam, BrightSource uses proprietary software to control thousands of mirrors to reflect sunlight onto a boiler filled with water that sits atop a tower. When the sunlight hits the boiler, the water inside is heated and creates high temperature steam. The steam is then piped to a conventional turbine which generates electricity.

One of Google's first renewable energy investments was in another solar thermal company--eSolar, which is licensing its modular designs to developers around the world. Google also has its own researchers working on the development of low-cost heliostats for use in solar thermal power plants. Google said in March 2010, that the heliostats could be ready within three years.


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