The California Energy Commission (CEC) voted unanimously to permit the developers of the Blythe Solar Power project to switch technologies from concentrating solar power (CSP) to solar photovoltaic (PV) modules. Once completed, the project, at 485 megawatts (MW), will be one of the largest plants of its kind in the United States as well as one of the largest in the world. The plant is slated to go online in 2018, with construction expected to take 4 years.
The Blythe plant was originally meant to use parabolic trough CSP technology, where sunlight is reflected off of curved mirrors and focused on to beams full of fluid which then be used to generate electricity via turbines, or stored for later use. But thanks to a dramatic drop in the cost of solar PV technology in recent years, its original developers, a consortium called Trust Solar, decided to switch from CSP in 2012, a year after the project was originally approved by the CEC. The project was purchased by NextEra Energy Resources when the consortium collapsed after its members filed for bankruptcy in 2012.
Concentrating solar power has not seen the sort of widespread uptake that solar PV panels have in the past few years. This is due in part to the relative costs of these technologies, but is also related to differences in scalability; solar panels can be mounted on roofs, making them well-suited to not only residential and commercial applications, but also utility-scale ones.
To date in the USA, considerable focus has been on large-scale solar projects as opposed to smaller, distributed systems. By contrast, in Australia from the outset more focus was put on residential-scale projects from the outset of the country’s incentive-fueled solar boom, then expanding out to the commercial sector. Utility solar projects on the scale of the Blythe plant are only just on the horizon. These include 2 government-sponsored Solar Flagships projects, which collectively would not add up to the capacity of the Blithe plant. Also on the radar is a 350MW plant proposed by project developer Solar Choice.
Top image via Wikipedia.
© 2014 Solar Choice Pty Ltd
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