King of Spain inaugurates Concentrating Solar Thermal Power Gemasolar Plant

The Gemasolar concentrated solar energy (CSP) plant, located at Fuentes de Andalucía in Seville, Spain and owned by Torresol Energy, a joint venture between Masdar, Abu Dhabi’s multi-faceted renewable energy company and SENER, the leading Spanish engineering and construction firm, is the world’s first commercial solar thermal plant to use molten salt thermal storage in a central tower configuration with a heliostat field and is expected to have a major impact of the future of the global solar energy industry. Torresol Energy owns the intellectual property rights to the leading edge technology.

The development of the solar thermal plant is the direct result of the UAE leadership’s progressive plans to further the nation’s leading role in the global energy sector and build an open and positive platform for international cooperation and collaboration by driving worldwide endeavors to diversify the energy portfolio.

The 185 hectare site consists of a field of 2,650 heliostats (mirrors) that reflect the sun’s rays onto a 140m-high central tower, concentrating solar irradiation at a ratio of 1000:1.

The use of salt, rather than oil, to transfer the heat generated from the concentrated sunlight, allows Gemasolar to operate at temperatures of over 550 C, much higher than plants with parabolic trough technology. This in turn generates hotter, pressurized steam to move the turbine, which significantly increases the plant’s efficiency.

Storing the hot salt also means electricity generation can continue for up to 15 hours even when there is no sunshine, a capability which could transform the solar industry.

Gemasolar, with a 19.9MW turbine and expected net electrical production of 110 GWh/year, started supplying electricity earlier this year through a high-tension line to the substation of Villanueva del Rey (Andalusia, Spain), where it is injected into the grid. It will supply to 25,000 homes in southern Spain, at full capacity, and is expected to save more than 30,000 tonnes of CO2 emission a year.

Torresol Energy, which commercially develops, manages construction, owns and operates CSP plants globally, has been awarded a 25-year regulated tariff by the Spanish Government. It is developing two further facilities – Valle 1 and Valle 2 – in nearby Cadiz. These 50MW facilities will employ parabolic trough technology and have an expected net electrical production of 160 GWh/year each – equivalent to the average consumption of 40,000 households. The two plants will together help save 90,000 tonnes of CO2 a year. Both are scheduled to commence start operations by the end of 2011.

These facilities will help Spain contribute to Europe’s 2020 climate and energy targets which aim to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 20%, increase to 20% the use of renewables as a primary source of energy and reduce primary energy consumption by 20% through improved efficiency.

A 171 million Euro financing facility was secured through the open market in 2008 for the construction of Gemasolar, led by Banco Popular, Banesto and the Instituto de Cr?dito Oficial, with 90 million Euros of this facility provided by the European Investment Bank. A further Euro 540 million of project finance loans was secured for the construction of Valle 1 and Valle 2.

Raising this amount for a first-of-its-kind technology at a commercial scale shows what Masdar and SENER are capable of as strong, credible technology partners. The support of EIB was also very important to the viability of this project, total investment in the three facilities came to Euro 1bn (US$1.4bn).

Gemasolar has already won a number of awards including Commercialized Technology Innovation of the Year’ and the Ruban d’Honneur title in the prestigious European Business Awards.

Masdar Power, one of the five integrated units of Masdar, is mandated to build and operate a portfolio of large scale renewable energy power projects. It is currently implementing major projects such as the 100 MW Shams-One concentrated solar power plant in the UAE, as well as international projects including the 1,000 MW London Array offshore wind farm.