GE invest 111.1 mln euros in Spain concentrating solar thermal power plant

GE Energy Financial Services, the energy financing arm of General Electric Co, and a German partner were investing 111.1 million euros in a Spanish concentrated solar thermal power plant that uses molten salt energy storage technology.

GE and Germany’s KGAL are equity investors in the 50-megawatt concentrated solar energy project, being developed by Spanish construction group ACS , GE said in a statement.

The Concentrating Solar Powerproject, named Extresol II, is in the western Spanish province of Badajoz. ACS unit Cobra completed construction on the Concentrating Solar Power project in December and currently provides operations and maintenance services to the plant.

Spain is a major market for renewable energy sources and is the world’s largest producer of solar thermal power, also known as concentrated solar power (CSP). Unlike photovoltaic solar panels that transform sunlight into electricity, concentrated solar energy plants use the sun’s heat to create steam that powers a generator.

GE was attracted to the project in part because of its use of molten salt storage, a technology that is becoming increasingly popular in concentrated solar energy plants because it allows them to keep producing power once the sun goes down.

"This transaction complements our growing European renewables portfolio and brings with it a different technology," Andrew Marsden, head of GE Energy Financial Services’ European business, said in the statement.

Molten salt storage first gained traction in Spain but is now catching on in the United States with solar thermal companies including SolarReserve, BrightSource Energy and eSolar Inc.

Extresol II is GE Energy Financial Service’s first investment in a CSP plant using molten salt storage, the company said. The Extresol II plant melts a special salt mixture during the day and then extracts the heat at night, extending its ability to generate electricity by an extra seven hours a day.

Extending the generating hours of solar thermal plants is key to keeping the technology competitive with photovoltaic panels, which have become markedly cheaper in the last year due to a global supply glut.