Mammoth Solar Tower Plant in California Starts Construction This Year

Two top companies in concentrating solar have agreed to work together on the world’s biggest project yet – the 500 megawatt Palen Solar Electric Generating System in Riverside, California.

The mammoth project, which consists of two, 250 MW solar towers – each 750-feet high – will serve power to 200,000 homes.

Brightsource and Abengoa (MCE: ABG.B) have signed an agreement to finance and build the project together. BrightSource will provide the solar field technology and plant design and Abengoa will build and maintain the plants.

Because it’s located in a Solar Energy Zone, Palen is close to receiving final permits. Construction is expected to begin near the end of this year and should come online in 2016, after creating more than 2,000 jobs, they say.

The original permit from the State of California was for a solar PV plant, but when Brightsource bought the project from the now-bankrupt Solar Trust of America, it applied to change the design to solar tower.

Switching to solar tower technology reduced the amount of land needed by 13%, from 4366 acres to 3800 acres, and cuts water use by 50%. That’s because the two very tall solar towers make it possible to concentrate the heliostats very close together.

Solar towers at Palen will be twice the height of those at Ivanpah.

Solar Tower

Rather than scraping the land of all vegetation, the solar field can be built around the natural contours of the land, retaining native vegetation under the mirrors, and avoiding areas of sensitive vegetation. Heliostats sit on poles placed directly into the ground without concrete foundations.

Even though Brightsource can combine solar tower technology with energy storage, for some reason energy storage isn’t being deployed at Palen.

As do traditional power plants, solar towers generate electricity by creating high temperature steam to turn a turbine, but instead of using fossil fuels or nuclear power to create the steam, they use the sun’s energy.

This week, the Sham 1 concentrating solar plant came online in Abu Dhabi, built by Abengoa. It operates four solar towers in Southern Europe and is building one in South Africa.

Brightsource is also in the midst of building the 377 MW Ivanpah plant in the Mohave Desert, another huge solar tower design. It recently shelved the 500 MW Rio Mesa project which would have rivaled Palen, because of delays and mounting expenses.

In October, Brightsource raised another round of equity capital, $80 million, bringing its total to about $615 million.

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