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The Year of Concentrating Solar Power: Five New Plants to Power America with Clean Energy

June 5, 2014 - 11:31am

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The <a href="/node/801451">Ivanpah Solar Electric Generating System</a> in Ivanpah Dry Lake, California. | Photo by Gilles Mingasson, Getty Images for Bechtel.

The Ivanpah Solar Electric Generating System in Ivanpah Dry Lake, California. | Photo by Gilles Mingasson, Getty Images for Bechtel.

Solar is increasingly providing clean, sustainable energy for our nation’s homes, businesses and industries. Clocking record-breaking growth and reaching a total of more than 4,700 megawatts of new installed capacity, 2013 was a big year for solar photovoltaic systems. But we’re also excited to watch 2014, which will mark a major milestone for a different form of solar energy: concentrating solar power (CSP).

CSP technology uses mirrors to focus and concentrate sunlight onto a receiver from which a heat transfer fluid carries the thermal energy to a power block to generate electricity. The technology can generate energy even when the sun isn’t shining, helping to provide clean power at times of peak demand. 

We recently rolled out the Energy Department’s new report, 2014: The Year of Concentrating Solar Power, which focuses on five of the most innovative CSP plants in the world. All of these projects are expected to be switched on in the southwestern United States by the end of the year as a result of sustained, long-term investments by the Department and committed solar industry partners.

These five new utility-scale CSP plants will pay major dividends. When completed, they will have the capacity to generate 1.26 gigawatts of electricity, nearly quadrupling America’s preexisting CSP capacity with the potential to power more than 350,000 average American homes.

These innovative CSP plants illustrate how the Energy Department advances high-impact clean energy technologies from inception to market through sustained, long-term investments. First, Energy Department research and development programs -- like the SunShot Initiative -- advance early-stage technologies. In this case, CSP technology was initially developed with the support of the Energy Department's Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy. Then, our Loan Programs Office worked with the private sector to encourage investment and accelerated deployment of CSP technology at commercial scale.

Loan guarantees are an instrumental way the Energy Department helps technologies like CSP get the financing they historically have trouble accessing for their first few commercial projects. Through successful public-private partnerships, we’ve been able to prove that CSP is a commercially viable energy source in the U.S., and we look forward to seeing it grow in the future.

Take a look at the five CSP plants:

  • Solana near Gila Bend, Arizona, was developed by Abengoa Solar, Inc., and opened in October 2013. The plant can dispatch energy to customers as needed during cloudy periods and after sunset. As the first power plant in the U.S. to use molten salt thermal energy storage, Solana generates electricity well into the evening to help meet the summer peak demand for air conditioning.
  • Genesis in Blythe, California, was developed by NextEra Energy Sources, LLC, and opened in April. Genesis expects to produce renewable electricity annually from more than 500,000 parabolic mirrors to power 60,000 average American homes.
  • Ivanpah Solar Electric Generating System in Ivanpah Dry Lake, California, was developed by BrightSource Energy and opened in February. The system uses over 300,000 software-controlled mirrors to track the sun across the sky and reflect the sunlight onto three towers. Ivanpah has the capacity to produce 392 megawatts of power and is expected to serve nearly 100,000 average American homes.
  • Crescent Dunes in Tonopah, Nevada, is being developed by SolarReserve and is expected to open by the end of the year. When completed, approximately 10,000 heliostats will be installed, and Crescent Dunes will be the nation’s first commercial-scale solar power tower facility with energy storage.
  • Mojave Solar One near Barstow, California, is being developed by Abengoa Solar and is expected to open later this year.  The plant is expected to produce 250 megawatts of power and is one of the largest projects of its kind in the world.

In his State of the Union address, President Obama recognized the growth and momentum of the U.S. solar industry in becoming a global leader. We couldn’t agree more. Solar is creating jobs here in America, strengthening our nation’s energy security,and reasserting our leadership in the global clean energy economy.

Read the 2014: The Year of Concentrating Solar Power report to learn more about each of these plants and find out how the SunShot Initiative is advancing CSP technologies through six new energy storage projects.

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