SoCalGas Accelerates Newest Solar Energy Technology

To help accelerate the commercialization of new technology that uses the sun’s energy rather than the electric grid or natural gas to power air-conditioning systems while co-producing renewable electricity, Southern California Gas Co. (SoCalGas) has launched a multi-year demonstration of an advanced concentrated solar cogeneration system to benefit businesses and the region.

The uniquely designed concentrating solar thermal technology, installed at SoCalGas’ Energy Resource Center in Downey, Calif., uses mirrors and a tracking system to capture the sun’s energy and focus the sunlight onto an array of photovoltaic solar collectors to produce electricity and hot water at the same time. The solar-heated hot water is used in place of electricity or natural gas to power an air conditioning process to provide 10 tons of cooling, or enough air conditioning to cool two average-sized homes.

SoCalGas is the first utility in the United States to test and demonstrate the solar cogeneration technology manufactured by Cogenra Solar® of Mountain View, Calif. Up until now, solar cogeneration systems produced solar hot water, space heating and electricity.

Air conditioning typically accounts for more than 50 percent of a building’s electrical usage. Solar-driven air conditioning provides cooling in the middle of the day when it is most needed, helping reduce energy usage during hours when electric rates are at peak. This helps reduce customer costs, greenhouse-gas emissions and provides a sustainable renewable alternative.

“We are excited about the potential of this advanced solar cogeneration system to provide costs savings, sustainable energy and lead to the creation of green jobs,” said Hal D. Snyder, vice president of customer solutions for SoCalGas. “This project will showcase new solar technology and provide a renewable resource for our customers, which contributes to California’s renewable energy goals. The start-up of Cogenra’s system on the roof has been surprisingly simple and easy due to its modular plug & play design.”

“Solar cogeneration has great market potential because of the positive approach to energy conservation and electric demand reduction,” said Snyder. ”It improves the resilience of buildings and processes to grid outage, as well as enables businesses to meet government-mandated green-energy targets by reducing their carbon footprint,” he added.

The concentrated solar cogeneration technology is modular and small enough in scale to be installed on commercial, industrial and institutional building rooftops. It requires less space than flat-panel photovoltaic systems yet provides more solar power and increased efficiencies due to its dual production of electricity and heat.

In 2008, SoCalGas launched a showcase pilot demonstration of concentrated solar thermal technologies. The solar cogeneration project builds on that successful demonstration and adds electric generation capability to the test site.

Southern California Gas Co. has been delivering clean, safe and reliable natural gas to its customers for more than 140 years. It is the nation’s largest natural gas distribution utility, providing service to 20.9 million consumers connected through nearly 5.8 million meters in more than 500 communities. The company’s service territory encompasses approximately 20,000 square miles throughout central and Southern California, from Visalia to the Mexican border. SoCalGas is a regulated subsidiary of Sempra Energy (NYSE:SRE).