Abengoa’s Solana solar project in Arizona passes commercial tests

Abengoa (MCE: ABG.B) on Oct. 9 marked the fact that its Solana facility in Arizona, the world’s largest parabolic trough plant with a total installed capacity of 280 MW (gross) and also the first solar plant in the U.S. with thermal energy storage, has successfully passed commercial operation tests.

This milestone marks a major accomplishment for Abengoa and the Concentrating Solar Power (CSP) industry as a whole.

Solana is the first solar plant in the U.S. with a thermal energy storage system that is able to generate electricity for six hours after dark without the concurrent use of the solar field. This is a turning point for renewable energy in this the U.S., serving as a tangible demonstration that solar energy can be stored and dispatched upon demand.

Solana, located near Gila Bend and about 70 miles southwest of Phoenix, began construction in 2010 and on Oct. 7 successfully fulfilled production forecasts required to-date and testing for commercial operation. These tests included operating at the turbine’s full capacity while charging the thermal storage system, continuing to produce electricity after the sun goes down, and starting up the plant and producing six hours of electricity using only the thermal storage system.

Abengoa’s first utility-scale solar plant in the U.S. employs parabolic trough technology. This technology consists of parabolic shaped mirrors mounted on structures that track the sun and concentrate the sun’s heat, later transforming water into steam and powering a conventional steam turbine. The heat can also be stored and used to produce clean electricity after the sun goes down or during a transitory period.

This dispatchability is one of the unique characteristics of concentrating solar power versus other types of renewables, Abengoa noted. The six hours of clean energy generated by Solana’s thermal storage system without the use of the solar field will satisfy Arizona’s peak electricity demands during the summer evenings and early nighttime hours. Dispatchability also eliminates intermittency issues that other renewables, such as wind and solar photovoltaics, contend with, providing stability to the grid and thus increasing the value of the energy generated by CSP.

Arizona Public Service (APS), the largest utility in Arizona, will purchase all of the electricity produced by the solar plant for 30 years through a power purchase agreement with Abengoa.

The total investment in the plant is about $2bn and during financing, Solana received a federal loan guarantee for $1.45bn from the U.S. Department of Energy’s Federal Loan Guarantee Program.

Abengoa said it currently has 1,223 MW of concentrating solar power in operation and 430 MW under construction. It is the largest CSP company in the world and one of the few that constructs and operates both solar tower and parabolic trough plants.

About Barry Cassell 20414 Articles
Barry Cassell is Chief Analyst for GenerationHub covering coal and emission controls issues, projects and policy. He has covered the coal and power generation industry for more than 24 years, beginning in November 2011 at GenerationHub and prior to that as editor of SNL Energy’s Coal Report. He was formerly with Coal Outlook for 15 years as the publication’s editor and contributing writer, and prior to that he was editor of Coal & Synfuels Technology and associate editor of The Energy Report. He has a bachelor’s degree from Central Michigan University.