GE Increases Stake in eSolar, New Brightsource Solar Thermal Includes Energy Storage

Massive Solar Plants Modified to Accommodate Wildlife

Earlier this week, we reported on two massive solar projects that are approved to move forward in California’s Carrizo Plain in San Luis Obispo County, California: SunPower’s 250 megawatt (MW) California Valley Solar Ranch and First Solar’s 550 MW Topaz Solar Farm.

The combined 800 MW solar plants will turn the Carrizo Plain into a major renewable energy hub, exceeding all of California’s distributed solar.

Sunpower (NASDAQ: SPWRA) and First Solar (NASDAQ: FSLR) have reached an agreement with Defenders of Wildlife, the Center for Biological Diversity, and the Sierra Club which will allow the projects to move forward while protecting the area’s wildlife. 

Over 9,000 acres will be added to the 17,000 acres of land required to be permanently protected and preserved, for a total of 40 square miles.

30 miles of fencing will be removed to allow for greater wildlife movement around the projects and enhancements will be made to the wildlife-friendly fencing around the solar system arrays.

And the companies will make financial contributions to help acquire more conservation land in San Luis Obispo County.

BrightSource Adds Energy Storage to Solar Thermal Designs

Concentrating Solar Power (CSP) company BrightSource Energy  has launched a utility-scale power-plant design that includes energy storage.

Called SolarPLUS, the design combines BrightSource’s power tower solar thermal technology with two-tank molten-salt storage.

The tower system uses a field of software-controlled heliostats to reflect the sun’s energy to a boiler atop a tower to produce high-temperature and high-pressure steam that’s used to turn a conventional steam turbine to produce electricity.

In the SolarPLUS plant, the steam is directed to a heat exchanger, where molten salts are further heated to higher temperatures. Later, when the energy is needed, the heat stored in the molten salts is used to generate more steam to run the turbine.

The combination of technologies allows for electricity to be produced after the sun sets. BrightSource says the design offers better efficiencies to utility companies who can shift electricity production to meet changing customer demands.

BrightSource isn’t the first company to use molten salt as a heat storage medium. Solar Reserve is developing a 110 MW CSP project with molten salt energy storage in Nevada.

GE Increases Investment in eSolar

General Electric is investing an additional $40 million in solar thermal company eSolar. 

As part of the agreement, GE will gain exclusive worldwide rights (excluding China and India) to eSolar’s modular technology for building hybrid, combined-cycle power plants.

GE first announced plans to invest an undisclosed amount in eSolar in June. eSolar’s technology fills a crucial gap in GE’s energy portfolio, allowing it to sell power plants that run on solar during the day and natural gas at night. 

GE and eSolar are targeting sales to Europe, Africa, the Middle East and the U.S., and they are working on a 530 MW project in Turkey with investor and developer MetCap Energy.

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