Wednesday, July 24, 2013

The future of solar – centralised or local generation?

The 392MW Ivanpah solar tower power station is the biggest concentrated solar thermal project in the world. It is also the most visually arresting. It features three huge towers, each 150m tall, surrounded by huge fields of mirrors that will focus the sun’s energy on a receiver located at the top of the tower. Water is boiled to create steam that then drives the turbines.After driving several hours along Interstate 15 through the desolate and ancient land formations of the Mojave Desert, and after rising over a large summit, you are suddenly presented with a glimpse of what many say is the future of electricity generation.
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It’s solar generation at a massive scale, made more impressive by its surroundings. Even though it spreads over so many hectares, its size pales against the grandeur of the stunning Mojave landscape.
Ivanpah is not the only solar power station of large-scale being built in this art of the world. To the north, across the state border in Nevada, a 110MW solar tower with storage facility is being built by SolarReserve.
To the west, in the heart of California’s “high desert”, First Solar is nearing completion of a 250MW AVSR solar PV project near Lancaster, while down the road SunPower has begun construction of a 579MW solar PV plant of their own.
A little further north, the tables are turned as SunPower puts the finishing touches to its 250MW CVSR project, while First Solar is about to trump it with the 550MW Topaz solar PV project, which is half way through construction.
But even as these massive projects are nearing completion, the question is being asked: Does the future of solar really lie in more of these large scale projects? Even the owners of these huge projects are not so sure.
NRG, the largest owner of generation assets in the US, and part owner of the Ivanpah project, says it is uncertain about the future of such large scale projects, because they are hugely capital-intensive.

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