By adding energy storage capability to solar concentrating plants, Brightsource will be able to reduce their footprint and forego building an additional 200 megawatt (MW) plant.
BrightSource Energy says it's signed the "largest solar storage deal in the world" with Southern California Edison (SCE).
BrightSource will add its SolarPLUS energy storage system - which produces energy for 2-3 hours at night - to three solar tower plants it's building to supply SCE with electricity, allowing them to operate at night and reducing the land required for the project. It should also translate into lower electricity costs for SCE's customers.
"By adding storage to its solar thermal power plants, BrightSource is able to further reduce the total cost of energy by increasing its capacity factor - how much power a plant produces over a year - extending the production of electricity into later parts of the day when it is most needed by utilities," says the company.
BrightSource will also be able to eliminate an entire 200 MW plant that would have otherwise been needed to fulfill its power purchase agreement with SCE to supply 4 million megawatt-hours of electricity a year.
Building only six of the seven planned tower plants will reduce the overall footprint by 1,280 acres in the Mohave Desert.
The difference is critical because the environmental community is increasingly pushing back against developing huge swaths of desert, and plunging solar PV prices are making it ever more difficult for concentrating solar to compete.
Four out of the nine mammoth solar concentrating plants approved have change ownership, and are being developed as solar PV plants instead.
Using energy storage will also lower capital costs and permitting costs.
The new contracts, if approved by the California Public Utilities Commission, now consist of two BrightSource solar thermal plants scheduled to deliver electricity in 2015 and three plants with energy storage scheduled to deliver electricity in 2016 and 2017.
In addition, BrightSource and its partners - NRG Energy, Google and Bechtel - are currently constructing the 126 MW Ivanpah Project in southeast California.
Research by the National Renewable Energy Lab point to the high value of concentrating solar thermal power technologies with storage:
- Shifts electricity production to periods of highest demand
- Eliminates the need to build supplemental fossil fuel plants
- Provides ancillary services such as spinning reserves to help support a reliable grid
- Avoids variability and integration costs of solar PV and wind, reducing the need for additional fossil fuel units required to back up intermittent renewables
California recently passed Assembly Bill 2514, landmark legislation designed to encourage the adoption of energy storage technologies.
In April, Brightsource filed for an IPO.