Molten-Salt Storage Coming To California

The plants are a long way from being built, but BrightSource Energy has found a taker for the energy storage capability that it began promoting back in August for use in its solar thermal developments. The company said [PDF] it was redoing power-purchase agreements with Southern California Edison to include SolarPlus technology — in which molten salts store heat gathered during the day for use at night — at three planned California plants.

Brightsource said that because the technology will boost efficiencies and capacity factors, the new deals with the utility “will provide approximately the same amount of energy annually but with one less plant, reducing the land impacts of delivering this energy and avoiding transactional costs that ultimately impact California’s ratepayers.” A Torresol Energy plant based on the same technology is already at work in Spain, and SolarReserve is building the 110-megawatt Crescent Dunes plant with the technology in Nevada.

BrightSource, energy storage

image via BrightSource Energy

With these agreements, we’re demonstrating that power tower technology is not only advancing the solar thermal industry, but that utility-scale solar generation can be both cost effective and reliable,” John Woolard, BrightSource president and CEO, said in a statement. “We’re thrilled to offer Southern California Edison a solution that provides higher value for its customers, while supporting a more reliable and stable grid for all Californians.”

BrightSource is currently developing the Ivanpah plant in the Mojave Desert and in recent months began the regulatory process for two additional large-scale projects in California, Rio Mesa and Hidden Hills. Those plants will all use the power tower system but without the SolarPlus energy storage technology, a BrightSource spokeswoman said. Instead, SolarPlus is planned for plants at two California sites — Siberia and Sonoran West — that are “in the development stage” and have not yet entered the regulatory fray. Assuming the California Public Utilities Commission approves the new contracts with Edison, the plants with energy storage should begin delivering electricity to the utility in 2016 and 2017, BrightSource said.

Pete Danko is a writer and editor based in Portland, Oregon. His work has appeared in Breaking Energy, National Geographic's Energy Blog, The New York Times, San Francisco Chronicle and elsewhere.

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