Thursday, September 1, 2011

Largest Solar Thermal Plant in World Converting to PV

Two months ago, U.S. Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar and Gov. Jerry Brown were at the ground breaking ceremony for Solar Millennium's Blythe solar plant. The project was slated to create 1,000 jobs inject $460 million into the local economy.

That rosy vision was clouded this week as Solar Trust of America, Solar Millennium's parent company, announced the 1,000-megawatt project is now on hold for retooling. The company is abandoning its plans to use solar thermal technology and will switch to the less expensive and less complex photovoltaic -- and an estimated cut of 50 percent in jobs.

The change will mean fewer jobs and delays of a year or more while the project gets new permits from the U.S. Bureau of Land Management.

Solar thermal, also called concentrated solar, produces electricity from heat gathered in reflective solar troughs. Photovoltaic solar panels generate electricity directly from sunlight.

Edward Sullivan, Solar Trust's vice president for external affairs, acknowledged using photovoltaic panels would mean fewer jobs overall but more for local workers since installing panels does not require as high a skill-set as solar thermal.  He also said the decision to go with PV was driven by money.

The change also means the project no longer qualifies for the $2.1 billion federal loan guarantee it was awarded earlier this year. It will be financed instead through commercial markets.

The Blythe plant is among four large-scale solar projects planned on public land off Interstate 10 east of the Coachella Valley.  Whether the project's environmental impact report also will need to be revised or amended has yet to be decided, although that has been required for other projects switching to PV such as the 663-megawatt Calico project in San Bernardino County.

Joan Taylor, chair of the Sierra Club's Desert Energy Committee, hopes repermitting will provide the opportunity for a second look at the project's impact on the sensitive plants and animals on the site.  Sullivan said the project's footprint, 7,025 acres, will likely remain about the same.

Touted as what would be the largest solar plant in the world, the Blythe project is the latest in a growing list of solar thermal projects that have been converted to PV, a trend driven by the falling price of solar panels.  While the cost for solar thermal is now running about $4 per watt, panels come in around $2.90 a watt.

Such figures could mean Blythe and other solar thermal projects do not pencil out well for potential investors, driving developers such as Solar Trust to PV to ensure financing.



Melissa Everett said...

Makes sense. If you are trying to create electricity, the direct heat of the sun is simpler than the intermediate step of heating the water, right?

Nice looking blog, by the way.

Henrik14 said...

Sorry Melisa, but electricity is not produced by heat in PV panels.
Same way investors should know the facts about PV and effectivenes.
anels lose effectivity as time pass, at least by 5% per year and some even 10%.
Because of lover efectivity there has to be installed more PV plates for same production capacity also, so total money spoent would be greater.
This is another example how greedy investors hack at branch they are sitting on, between themself and tree.
Actualy whole new branch of Thermal Solars is in preparation that would have at least 70% total conversion rate and whgich would cost 1 Euro per W of capacity installed, capable of working 24/365 constantly and reliably. Such molten salt type of Solars would also have near zero "Land Footprint" and would not require water for cleaning the mirrors as there would be no mirrors in use.
Concern about local plants is justofied since PV plates create "Deadly Shade" in which nothing grows.
My Solars would also need much less ground for same caspacity, about 1/4 of what standard thermal Solars would take, and plant could be extended as far as ground is available without any loss of it.
Even without government subsidies, my Solars would produce wlecticity for at most 10 Euro per MWh or 1c per KW, and I know how to put down cost to just 1 Euro per MWh where at samne time investor would earn 150% of profit while geting maintenance and repair for free as long as Solar is working.

Curiously enough, even if I write about it, nobody seems to be interested :-((
I guess there is too much invested in PV panels production and they know PV is doomed once my Solars start to be implemented.......