BrightSource Energy may well be one of the most indefatigable companies on earth. After 20 years of solar dormancy brought about by cheap oil prices, what was once Luz International rose from the ashes to pursue development of the world’s largest solar thermal plant in California. That process has been mired by countless pitfalls, not least of which was the Bureau of Land Management’s decision to halt construction because the Ivanpah project threatened rare animal and plant species. But BrightSource forged ahead, got a little boost from Google, filed for an IPO on Earth Day in order to gather financial help, and has now asked for permission to build another two large plants that will feature the company’s newest evolution in solar thermal technology.
The largest solar plant in the world, when complete the Ivanpah solar energy generating station will produce a combined 392MW of electricity, but the new plants will bust that capacity out of the water with a combined production of 500MW.
BrightSource submitted their application for Certification with the California Energy Commission even though the Department of Energy’s loan guaranteed for renewable energy projects expire in September. Called the Hidden Hills Solar Electric Generating System, the project is slated to be built on a chunk of private land located roughly 40 miles south of Ivanpah.
It will require less land than the earlier SEGS thanks to a few novel changes to their technology. By making the central tower taller, BrightSource has realized that its heliostats can be placed closer together without losing any of its efficiency. Also, the mirrors will be placed almost directly on the ground in order to reduce the amount of construction materials needed and its overall footprint. This small but significant change in the plant’s setup will also minimize disruptions to the natural sites and vegetation will be permitted to grow freely around the heliostats.
Sustainable Business points out that BrightSource has not revealed whether they will incorporate their new molten salt technology into the Hidden Hills venture, if approved, but its hard to see why they wouldn’t. Any steps in efficiency bring solar that much closer to competing with fossil fuels and there’s no way these guys are going to stop this endless pursuit any time soon!
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