U.S. Department of Energy - Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy
California Utility Agrees to Buy 553 Megawatts of Solar Power
August 1, 2007
Pacific Gas and Electric Company (PG&E) announced on July 25th that it
has agreed to buy power from a 553-megawatt solar thermal power plant
to be located in California's Mojave Desert. Solel-MSP-1 plans to
build the Mojave Solar Park using its parabolic trough technology,
which employs long rows of trough-shaped mirrors that concentrate the
sun's heat onto a "receiver" tube. The vacuum-insulated tubing carries
a fluid that is heated to high temperatures and is then used to boil
water. The steam drives a turbine and generator to produce power. The
Solel facility will cover about 9 square miles, featuring 1.2 million
mirrors and 317 miles of vacuum tubing. When fully operational in
2011, the Mojave Solar Park will produce enough electricity to meet
the average annual needs of 400,000 homes in PG&E's service territory.
The new contract is the largest solar power agreement in the world.
See the PG&E press release.
In recent years, California utilities have signed a number of
agreements to buy electricity from solar thermal power plants, but
none of the new facilities have yet to materialize. Last year, PG&E
signed an agreement with another parabolic trough company for
500 megawatts of solar thermal power. In 2005, PG&E's neighbors to the
south—Southern California Edison and the San Diego Gas and Electric
Company—signed on for 500 megawatts and 300 megawatts of solar
thermal power, respectively. Those projects intended to deploy arrays
of dish-shaped mirrors that focus sunlight onto Stirling heat engines.
See the article from the August 16th, 2006, edition of the EERE Network News.
While California utilities have big plans for solar thermal power, the
Electric Power Research Institute (EPRI) is leading a new project to
study the feasibility of building a solar thermal power plant in New
Mexico. The project will involve establishing a team of experts from
electric utilities, engineering firms, and DOE national laboratories,
including the National Renewable Energy Laboratory and Sandia National
Laboratories. That team will perform a feasibility study for a solar
thermal plant that will be 50 to 500 megawatts in capacity. The study
will be finished by the end of this year, and if it finds the project
to be feasible, the project will advance to a design and permitting
phase, followed by a construction phase. EPRI is working on the
project with PNM, a utility in New Mexico, as well as several other
utilities that operate in the Southwest. See the
EPRI press release.