EIA says 2013 a red-letter year for solar thermal development

Several large, new solar thermal power plants are expected to begin commercial operation by the end of 2013, more than doubling the solar thermal generating capacity in the U.S., said the U.S. Energy Information Administration in the Nov. 14 version of its Today In Energy feature.

The projects use different solar thermal technologies and storage options. Abengoa‘s Solana plant, which came on line in October, is a 250-MW parabolic trough plant in Gila Bend, Ariz., with integrated thermal storage. BrightSource‘s Ivanpah project, expected to enter service by the end of 2013, is a 391-MW power tower plant in California’s Mojave Desert and does not include storage, EIA noted.

Ivanpah uses a series of three power towers, where a field of movable mirrors (called heliostats) focus light on a 459-foot central tower. The light heats water in a boiler at the top of the tower, creating steam, which is used to run a conventional steam turbine.

Solana and Ivanpah are much larger than solar thermal plants that have previously entered service in the U.S. Over the past decade, a few smaller-scale and demonstration solar thermal projects have entered service.

The only other dedicated solar thermal plants larger than 10 MW in the U.S. are the series of Solar Energy Generating System (SEGS) plants built in California in the 1980s and early 1990s and the Nevada Solar One parabolic trough project completed in 2007.

EIA said its projections for total solar thermal capacity additions in 2013 and 2014 include six projects for a total of 1,257 MW, with more expected in 2015 and 2016.

While these solar thermal capacity additions are significant for the technology, they represent only 4% of total expected capacity additions for 2013 and 2014. In addition, solar thermal capacity additions continue to be outpaced by solar photovoltaic (PV) capacity additions, even though solar PV has only meaningfully entered the utility-scale market in the past few years.

All five of the major solar thermal projects—including Solana and Ivanpah—that are scheduled to come on line in 2013 and 2014 got loans through the U.S. Department of Energy’s Loan Guarantee Program. Solana received a federal loan guarantee for $1.45bn of the approximately $2bn cost of the project, according to the parent company, Abengoa. BrightSource Energy reports a $1.6bn federal loan guarantee on the approximately $2.2bn Ivanpah project.

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.