SolarReserve Advances Financing Process With DOE For CSP Projects in California and Nevada

SolarReserve, a U.S. developer of utility-scale concentrated solar energy projects, announced it is proceeding with purchases of long-lead materials and equipment as it advances in financing arrangements with the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) Loan Guarantee Program for its Crescent Dunes Energy Project in Tonopah, Nevada, and Rice Solar Energy Project in Riverside County, California. Both Concentrating Solar Power projects are set to break ground in 2011 after receipt of final environmental permits and completion of the DOE financing activities.

Together, the concentrated solar energy projects will generate an estimated 10,400 direct and indirect jobs in the manufacturing supply, design and construction of zero-emission solar power facilities to provide renewable energy for up to 150,000 homes. Both concentrated solar energy projects use the advanced molten salt, power tower technology developed by Pratt & Whitney Rocketdyne, a division of United Technologies Corporation. The innovative technology features integrated energy storage to generate electricity on demand, even after the sun goes down, providing utilities with firm, reliable and renewable energy. This technology can replace conventional power generation that produces harmful emissions from burning coal, natural gas and oil.

“Our decision to proceed with the procurement of long-lead materials and our progress in advancing DOE-supported financing are key milestones in our construction of power plants based upon this game-changing, U.S.-developed and tested solar technology,” said Kevin Smith, CEO of SolarReserve. “The DOE played a pivotal role in supporting the development of this technology through its association with the Solar Two project in the late 1990s. We are pleased to be working with the DOE in the full commercial launch of this innovative technology as a clear demonstration of American energy leadership in generating clean energy while creating significant regional employment.”

The 110-megawatt Crescent Dunes Solar Energy Project located in Nye County, Nevada, near the town of Tonopah, has been designated by the Department of Interior as a fast-track applicant for right of way use of federal lands managed by the Bureau of Land Management (BLM). The project, which, in 2009 secured a 25-year power purchase agreement with NV Energy and approved by the Public Utility Commission of Nevada in July, has completed its environmental impact study and is targeted to receive a record of decision from the Department of Interior before the end of the year.

The 150-megawatt Rice Solar Energy Project in eastern Riverside County, California, sited on previously disturbed private land, is currently under review by the California Energy Commission with a final decision also anticipated before the end of the year. The project has secured a 25-year power purchase agreement with Pacific Gas & Electric Company (PG&E) that was approved by the California Public Utilities Commission in September of this year.

“We are working closely with the DOE Loan Guarantee Program staff to efficiently and effectively progress the financing of these breakthrough projects,” said Michael Whalen, SolarReserve chief financial officer. “Tonopah and Rice will feature the inherent energy storage capabilities of this U.S.-developed solar thermal power technology, which means dependable production of clean power at an affordable price. The support of the DOE under the Section 1705 Program will be critical to realizing the benefits of these projects to regional employment and to our environment.”

SolarReserve applied for participation in the Loan Guarantee Program under the DOE’s July 2009 solicitation for innovative renewable technologies pursuant to under the Section 1705 of the Energy Policy Act of 2005. Both projects successfully advanced through Parts I and II of the DOE’s extensive application review process. DOE and SolarReserve are advancing the arrangements for the financing terms and conditions available under the DOE’s Section 1705 Program.

SolarReserve, LLC – headquartered in Santa Monica, Calif. – is a solar energy project development company developing large-scale solar energy projects worldwide. It holds the exclusive worldwide license to the molten salt, solar power tower technology developed by United Technologies Corporation. Since its formation in late 2007, SolarReserve’s team of power project professionals have assembled a concentrated solar power development portfolio of more than 25 projects featuring its licensed solar power technology with potential output of more than 3,000 megawatts in the United States and Europe; with early stage activities in other international markets. SolarReserve is also developing 1,100 MW of photovoltaic projects across the Western United States, and is actively acquiring new sites to add to the pipeline. SolarReserve’s experienced management team has previously developed and financed more than $15 billion in renewable and conventional energy projects in more than a dozen countries around the world.

SolarReserve will build power plants designed as Solar Power Towers. This configuration captures and focuses the sun’s thermal energy with thousands of tracking mirrors (called heliostats) in a two square mile field. A tower resides in the center of the heliostat field. The heliostats focus concentrated sunlight on a receiver which sits on top of the tower. Within the receiver, the concentrated sunlight heats molten salt to over 1000 degrees Fahrenheit. The heated molten salt then flows into a thermal storage tank where it is stored, maintaining 98% thermal efficiency, and eventually pumped to a steam generator. The steam drives a standard turbine to generate electricity. This process, also known as the "Rankine cycle" is similar to a standard coal-fired power plant, except it is fueled by clean and free solar energy. Other than the few unique components noted below, SolarReserve’s power plants are comprised of available materials, such as mirrors, and established technologies, such as steam generators and turbines. This will enable SolarReserve to provide electricity at or below prices from traditional sources such as coal or natural gas.

The unique components in SolarReserve’s power towers are the molten salt storage loop and the power tower central receiver. The molten salt storage loop enables the plant to generate electricity whenever it is needed – 24 hours per day or during "peak demand" periods. Molten salt is an efficient and inexpensive medium to store energy. The salt used in the process is an environmentally friendly mixture of sodium and potassium nitrate, the same ingredients used in garden fertilizer. The other unique component is the power tower central receiver. This high heat flux hardware represents a unique blend of liquid rocket engine heat transfer technology and molten salt handling expertise. United Technologies has decades of experience with these technologies in both land-based and space applications, and its support will be invaluable to SolarReserve in developing power plants utilizing this revolutionary technology.

How big is the SolarReserve power plant?

The field of mirrors, called heliostats, is roughly two square miles or 1,280 acres. The power tower is roughly 600 feet tall. The plant will generate between 100-600 megawatts of electricity, depending on the configuration of power load that the utility or customer requires. One megawatt is enough power to supply approximately 1,000 US households.

Why do electric utilities favor SolarReserve’s solution?

The molten salt storage technology enables SolarReserve to deploy electricity whenever the utility demands it. SolarReserve’s power plants can generate electricity 24 hours per day, or only when electricity demand is at its highest. Other renewable technologies, such as wind and traditional solar power, offer no or limited thermal storage, and therefore can only generate electricity when the wind blows or when the sun shines.

Does this technology actually exist, or is this just a concept?

Rocketdyne successfully demonstrated the molten salt power tower technology at Solar Two, a plant that operated in the 1990s in Daggett, California. The technology has continued to evolve since Solar Two; and recently the U.S. Department of Energy, who co-funded Solar Two, awarded Rocketdyne with another grant continue development of the technology. With this significant support, SolarReserve’s technology is ready for utility-scale development today.

What are the plant’s emissions?

An operating SolarReserve power plant is 100% clean. No fossil fuels are required to to operate the plant.

Does electricity from SolarReserve cost more than electricity from traditional sources such as natural gas and coal?

At full scale, we anticipate our power prices to be competitive with modern fossil fuel-based generation facilities. And as the costs of fossil fuels rise, as most forecasts predict, electricity from these sources will rise accordingly. SolarReserve, which fuels its plant from free sunlight, will not be affected by fossil fuel prices, and therefore will produce comparatively cheaper electricity in the future.

Is this the same technology as the photovoltaic panels that I see on rooftops?

No, the only similarity to photovoltaic panels is that both technologies use sunlight as fuel. SolarReserve’s technology is similar to using a magnifying glass to focus sunlight generate heat, but at a much larger scale. SolarReserve technology uses the sun’s thermal energy to heat molten salt. Molten salt is a very efficient heat carrier and storage medium. The stored molten salt can be called upon at any time to generate steam which will then spin a turbine to create electricity. The latter half of this process, also called a steam cycle, is identical to the process used in traditional coal or nuclear power plants, except it is 100% renewable and 100% clean.

How does SolarReserve technology differ from other concentrated solar power technologies such as troughs and other power towers?

There are fundamentally two types of concentrated solar thermal technologies: troughs and power towers. The trough configuration has been proven at the SEGS plants in Southern California. However, incorporating storage technology with troughs is inherently difficult. They operate at lower temperatures, have hundreds of miles of receiver tubing, and use oil as a working fluid, which is less efficient than molten salt. Power towers are more conducive to storage technology, however other operational power towers use direct steam technology, which does not offer the enhanced storage capability of SolarReserve’s molten salt power tower. Molten salt is the ideal storage medium for concentrated solar power, offering 98% thermal efficiency. SolarReserve molten salt power towers operate at high temperatures (over 1000 degrees Fahrenheit) to generate superheated steam and drive a standard steam turbine at peak efficiency. Other lower-temperature solar thermal technologies require a customized steam turbine that is less efficient.

What is molten salt?

Molten salt, which is used as a heat storage medium in the SolarReserve power plant, is an entirely and environmentally friendly mixture of sodium and potassium nitrate. If fact, in solid form, it is traditionally used as garden fertilizer.

Where do you envision future SolarReserve plants being built?

The Southwestern United States has some of the best high sunlight incidence regions for a SolarReserve plant. Other regions that have good sunlight characteristics include southern Europe, Australia, and northern and southern Africa.

Who are United Technologies and US Renewables Group, and what is your affiliation with them?

United Technologies is a $70 billion Dow 30 component and one of the world’s leading advanced technology companies. Its many products include Hamilton Sundstrand aerospace systems, Pratt & Whitney aircraft engines, Sikorsky helicopters, Carrier climate systems, Otis elevators and escalators, UTC Fire & Security systems and UTC Power fuel cells. United Technologies has been developing power systems and molten salt technology for 30 years in both terrestrial and space applications. United Technologies provided SolarReserve with an exclusive worldwide license to develop projects using the proprietary molten salt power tower technology, which has been in development for nearly three decades.

US Renewables Group is an investment firm focused exclusively on renewable power and clean fuel projects. US Renewables Group teamed with SolarReserve to provide capital and development and financing expertise to build projects worldwide.

I want to help build this revolutionary technology – is SolarReserve hiring?

Keep an eye out for a "career" page on this website in the near future. SolarReserve is growing rapidly and anticipates hiring a team of passionate, brilliant people to manage this growth.

SolarReserve’s molten salt, concentrating solar power tower technology was successfully demonstrated in California under a U.S. Department of Energy-sponsored pilot project in the late 1990s. The 10-megawatt pilot facility utilized a molten salt receiver designed, engineered and assembled by Rocketdyne, now a part of United Technologies Corporation.