U.S. Department of Energy

    Large-Scale Solar Thermal Power Projects Planned for California

    April 9, 2008

    The push to develop large concentrating solar power (CSP) plants in California gained momentum in late March and early April, 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. See the FPL Energy press release.

    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 DOE and demonstrated at a facility near Barstow, California, 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. See the PG&E press release.

    The CEC is currently reviewing a number of CSP proposals and is expecting more in the near future. In addition to the Ivanpah and Beacon Solar Energy projects, the CEC is reviewing the Victorville 2 Hybrid Power Project, which combines a 513-megawatt natural gas power plant with 50 megawatts of CSP, and the Carrizo Energy Solar Farm, which will generate 177 megawatts. The CEC is also expecting an application from the City of Palmdale for another hybrid plant combining a natural gas power plant with 50 megawatts of CSP, as well as applications for two CSP plants using arrays of dish-shaped mirrors to concentrate the sun's heat onto thermal engines. These "dish/engine systems" convert the heat directly into power, and the CEC is expecting proposals for a 900-megawatt project and an 850-megawatt project. In the long run, the CEC anticipates another six CSP plants with a combined capacity of 1,370 megawatts. See the CEC listing of all recent and proposed energy projects.