BrightSource Energy to help build CSP plants in the Chinese Gobi Desert

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BrightSource Energy’s Ivanpah CSP plant under construction (Pic: BrightSource Energy)

Leading US concentrating solar power technology (CSP) company BrightSource Energy has teamed up with the Shanghai Electric Group Ltd (SEC) to form a joint venture for the construction of CSP plants in China. The two companies will provide engineering, procurement and construction (EPC) services for the projects which will utilise BrightSource Energy’s solar power tower technology. The announcement was made during a signing ceremony during the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation Summit (APEC) in Beijing, China and was witnessed by senior representatives from the U.S. government, including the U.S. Deputy Secretary of Commerce Bruce H. Andrews. APEC was selected as the venue because it focuses on addressing both the region’s economic and environmental challenges by speeding the transition toward a global low-carbon economy in a way that enhances energy security and creates new sources of economic growth and employment.

Concentrated Solar Power (CSP) generates solar power by using mirrors to focus sunlight on a central tower which converts the concentrated light into heat which in turn drives a turbine. This is connected to an electrical power generator or alternatively powers a thermochemical reaction. CSP is now being rapidly commercialised across the globe with 740 MW of generating capacity being added worldwide between 2007 and 2010, most of which was added in 2010. One of the largest CSP plants in the world is the Shams-I project, developed by Masdar in Abu Dhabi.

The first project likely to be developed by the BrightSource Energy – SEC JV will consist of two 135 MW CSP plants as part of the first phase of the Huanghe Qinghai Delingha Solar Thermal Power Project, mostly owned by the Huanghe Hydropower Development Co., Ltd (Huanghe), a subsidiary of the China Power Investment Corporation (CPI).

IVANPAH, CALIFORNIA, APRIL 02 2013: Heliostats surround Tower 1 at the Ivanpah Solar Power Facility. Located in the Mojave Desert 40 miles southwest of Las Vegas, The Ivanpah Solar Power Facility is a solar thermal power project, currently under construction, with a planned capacity of 392 megawatts, enough to power approximately 140,000 houses. It will deploy 170,000 heliostat mirrors spread over 4,000 hectares, focusing solar energy on boilers located atop three solar power towers, generating steam to drive specially adapted steam turbines The project, developed by Bechtel, will cost $2.2 billion and be the largest solar farm in the world (photo Gilles Mingasson/Getty Images for Bechtel).

CSP mirrors at BrightSource Energy’s Ivanpah plant (Pic: BrightSource Energy)

The Huanghe Qinghai Delingha Solar Thermal Power Project will be located in China’s Qinghai province and will incorporate six 135 MW CSP plants in total with the first phase including two 135 MW solar thermal plants with thermal energy storage. Construction of these two plants will begin this year with completion expected in 2017.

“Concentrated solar thermal power with integrated thermal energy storage is a cost effective way to bring reliable, dispatchable renewable energy to the grid today” said David Ramm, CEO of BrightSource Energy. “By partnering with Shanghai Electric we will deploy our best-in-class solar thermal technology to help China meet its growing energy needs and emissions-reduction goals.”

Mr. Bi Chengye, General Manager of SEC’s CSP Division, added that the SEC and BrightSource Energy JV will benefit the development of China’s CSP market. The technology faces two challenges with regard to its commercial take-off. One of these concerns the reliability of the technology and the other is the relatively high construction cost. BrightSource Energy’s successful Ivanpah project has shown great stability in commercial operation and SEC, as the contractor and major equipment supplier to the project, can help solve the management issues during the construction phase in China, thereby helping to control the total cost.

A feasibility study for the project has already been completed and will be reviewed by a panel of experts appointed by Huanghe and the Qinghai Province Development and Reform Commission (DRC). Pending the Qinghai DRC’s approval based on recommendations from the Expert Panel, the National Development and Reform Commission will also approve and recommend a tariff for the project’s first phase.

As part of their proposal submitted to Huanghe, BrightSource and SEC have provided a term sheet regarding the proposed EPC services, which are subject to Chinese regulations and approval by Huanghe and its higher authority China Power Investment Corporation. The project also builds on BrightSource’s Memorandums of Understanding (MOUs) with CPI and CPI’s subsidiary, Huanghe, enabling the company to act as the technology supplier for the project as part of the U.S.–China Renewable Energy Partnership (USCREP). This was just one of seven initiatives announced by President Obama in 2009.

A new form of CSP is currently generating interest across the world. This is called STEM. It is aimed at off-grid applications and is expected to be able to provide 24-hour industrial-scale power, mostly for mines and remote communities in other parts of Europe, Australia, Asia, North Africa and Latin America. STEM uses fluidised silica sand as a thermal storage facility and a heat transfer medium for CSP. The technology has been developed by Magaldi Industries of Salerno, Italy and will enter commercial operation in Sicily this year.

Source: BrightSource Energy press release

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