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New Concentrating Solar Tower Is Worth Its Salt with 24/7 Power

A California firm is converting sunlight to heat and storing it in molten salt so it can supply electricity when the wind is calm or the sun isn’t shining

Deep in the Nevada desert, halfway between Las Vegas and Reno, a lone white tower stands 195 meters tall, gleaming like a beacon. It is surrounded by more than 10,000 billboard-size mirrors focusing the sun’s rays on its tip. The Crescent Dunes “concentrating solar power” plantlooks like some advanced communication device for aliens. But the facility’s innovation lies in the fact that it can store electricity and make it available on demand any time—day or night.

Crescent Dunes, the flagship project of Santa Monica–based firm SolarReserve, has achieved what engineers and proponents of renewable energy have struggled with for decades: providing cheap, commercial-scale, non–fossil fuel electricity even when winds are calm or the sun is not shining. The facility is touted as being the first solar power plant that can store more than 10 hours of electricity, which translates into 1,100 megawatt-hours, enough to power 75,000 homes. “We can ramp up electricity generation for utilities based on the demand. We can turn on when they want us to turn on and we can turn off when they want us to turn off,” SolarReserve CEO Kevin Smith says.

The trick is to have all those mirrors heat up a massive tank fullof sodium and potassium nitrates that are pumped up to the top of the tower. There the molten salt can reach temperatures as high as 565 degrees Celsius. When electricity is needed, the hot salt is used to boil water and produce high-temperature, high-pressure steam, which turns turbines that generate electricity. The rest of the time, the molten salt can be stored in another insulated tank on the ground.

Molten salt’s physical and thermal properties make it a particularly good candidate for energy storage. It can be pumped just like water and stored in tanks just like water, says Cliff Ho, an engineer at Sandia National Laboratories who studies heat transfer and fluid mechanics for technologies such as concentrating solar power, but is not involved in Crescent Dunes. And although a handful of other concentrating solar plants around the world use solar rays to heat water directly into steam, it is much more volatile than molten salt and cannot be easily stored, Ho explains. That is why the Ivanpah Solar Electric Generating System in California, the world’s largest concentrating solar-thermal plant at 377 megawatts, has no way to store all the energy it produces.

Although a few other plants like the Solana Generating Station in Arizona have used molten salt as a storage medium, they heat the salt indirectly, using solar energy to first heat other fluids such as oil. The benefit of using molten salt as both the energy collector that creates steam and the energy storage mechanism, however, is that it eliminates the need for expensive heat exchangers to go between different fluids. And with molten salt, Crescent Dunes can operate at much higher temperatures than plants using other heat transfer fluids, which makes electricity generation more efficient, Smith says. Plus, the molten salt medium is cheaper, more environment-friendly, nontoxic and nonflammable compared with oil.

But molten salt technology itself is not new. “What Crescent Dunes brings to the table is that it proves that we can use this technology with concentrated solar power to generate nonintermittent electricity,” says Yogi Goswami, a professor at the University of South Florida and an expert on solar power. The payoff, he adds, is that 10-hour storage eliminates the need for a fossil fuel power plant to back up electricity production on cloudy days and at peak usage hours in the evening. It also relieves anxiety for utilities concerned with overproduction of electricity by solar power plants during the day, which sometimes forces them to curtail electricity production or pay customers to take the extra power.

Solar Reserve’s 110MW Crescent Dune plant in Nevada, US, will deliver more than 500,000 MW-hours of electricity per year, and requires zero natural gas. Photograph: Solar Reserve

The proposed plant in Port Augusta, to be called Aurora, would be located 30km north of town.

Unlike the Vast Solar Project, SolarReserve’s plan uses one large tower with a receiver at the top, surrounded by thousands of heliostats.

Like all large-scale solar thermal plants, Aurora’s true value lies in its energy storage – 880MW hours, enough to last about eight hours, so that it can keep generating electricity at night, when solar panels have stopped producing. SolarReserve uses molten salt through the entire process, pumping it through the receiver and into the storage tanks at about 565C.

Mr Thompson said construction of the plant in Nevada had created 4,500 jobs in the construction phase, and 45 permanent jobs once the plant was operational. Those numbers will be similar at the Port Augusta plant.

He said investors were enthusiastic about the project in Port Augusta, but they needed to see certain fundamentals fall into place before committing.

“We have already been to the debt and equity markets and had an overwhelming response from them and we are oversubscribed on both, which is great,” he said.

“It’s early stages and they’ve obviously got to look at the project more deeply to finalise their position on that, but early indications are there is plenty of money around for this technology.”

While SolarReserve and Vast Solar were both bullish about the future of their Australian projects, neither shied away from the reality that investors still have a ‘wait and see’ approach to large-scale renewable energy projects in Australia.

“Right now, when it’s a first-off plant, [attracting investors] is a difficult thing, so you need an investor with a high-risk appetite,” James Fisher said.

“That really means it’s going to need government support.

“Once you’ve got the first plant built, then it comes to a different sort of [investor] and there is huge amounts of money out there looking for infrastructure investments that are giving a return over a 30-year plant life.

“There is no shortage of funds once you prove the technology,” he said.

Vast Solar is gradually build up its solar thermal plant in Jemalong, New South Wales, and will soon have 6MW capacity. Photograph: Vast Solar

Ideally, you’d be building at that 250MW scale, but we can go down as little as 30MW and make it work [commercially]

Vast Solar’s Jemalong project uses several 27-metre towers, each with a receiver in front of hundreds of heliostats.

Every model is different and Vast Solar pumps liquid sodium into its receivers, where it is heated to about 600C, before it is pumped back down and the heat transferred to molten salt for storage.

The company has raised $25m for the project so far, enough to proceed with the 30MW station.

Another, much bigger solar thermal project in the spotlight was a proposed 110MW plant to be built at Port Augusta in South Australia by US renewable energy company SolarReserve.

SolarReserve already has runs on the board, after completing an operational 110MW plant in Nevada in the United States last year.

Daniel Thompson, the director of development, said that success in Nevada, along with projects under way in other countries, could be replicated in Port Augusta.

“This is very much a blueprint from our previous projects, so it is largely de-risked and we’re very, very comfortable with what we can deliver there,” he said.

That confidence is obviously shared by the world’s biggest coal producer, Chinese company Shenhua Coal, which signed a memorandum of understanding with SolarReserve last week to build ten, large-scale solar tower and storage plants in China, totalling more than 1,000MW and at a cost of $2bn.

India To Spend 5,000 Crore Rupees On Rooftop Solar Power Through 2021

NEW DELHI: :India has earmarked Rs. 5,000 crore rupees to pay for the installation of rooftop solar panels over the next five years that will generate up to 4,200 megawatts of power, the government said today.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi's cabinet increased the funding from an earlier Rs.600 crore to encourage households, government bodies, hospitals and educational institutions to install the rooftop solar panels.

Private firms cannot claim the subsidy.

The government has set a target of generating 100,000 MW of electricity from solar panels by 2022 to overcome an acute power shortage.

Separately, PM Modi's cabinet backed a civil nuclear deal that India and Australia ratified this year to bolster nuclear power generation in the south Asian nation, according to statements issued afterwards.

The ministers also approved an agreement between India and the Maldives to curb tax evasion by preventing illicit funds being stashed outside the country. Such funds are often hidden abroad to avoid local taxes.

The cabinet also gave its nod to a proposal to float joint venture companies between the federal railways and state governments to beef up India's decrepit rail network.

governments to beef up India's decrepit rail network.

Municipal bodies told to use solar power for lighting

Lucknow: After drawing flak from opposition, the Akhilesh Yadav government has gone into overdrive to save power. A beginning is expected to be made at the municipal level with the department of urban development asking local bodies to energize their street lights and water supply with renewable sources like solar energy. The move coincides with the national energy conservation day which was observed on Sunday.

In a fresh directive issued to all municipal commissioners, executive officers of nagar palika and parishads, the department said local bodies were spending heavily on electricity consumption. This needs to be curtailed through use of renewable energy. For example, municipal corporations like Lucknow spend over Rs 4 crore per month on electricity consumption.

Speaking to TOI, secretary, urban development, Sri Prakash Singh said the municipal corporation and other local bodies will rope in agencies for installation of solar powered street lights and high mast lamps. He said that this way not only will consumption of power be brought down, the move will also encourage use of renewable energy.

The usage of solar powered lights should adhere to the standards set up by Union ministry of renewable energy, the department in the directive said. For this, local bodies need to rope in Central agencies which provide equipment which are as per the standards decided by the Central ministry.

The department has faced much embarrassment over wastage of electricity through street lights. Nearly six months ago, urban development minister Azam Khan had asked the municipal commissioners to ensure that street lights are switched off during the day time, else there would be deductions from their salaries. The directive, however, did not evoke much response even as complaints of electricity wastage continued to pour in.

UP, as a matter of fact, has been a power-starved state. Urban development department officials said even UP chief minister has been insisting on use of renewable energy.

Bengal proposes world's largest solar power plant

KOLKATA : The West Bengal government's proposal to set up a large solar power plant — billed as the largest in the world — is "under consideration" of the central government, an official said on Wednesday.

According to solar energy expert SP Gonchaudhury, who is also advisor to the state government's power department, "If sanctioned, the power plant planned in Purulia district will generate 250MW of power."

"There is plenty of land in Purulia ... we are scouting locations near an existing water pumping plant in the Baghmundi area. The detailed project report is under consideration of the ministry of renewable energy," Gonchaudhury said.

India to invite bidding for largest solar power project; aims to achieve a capacity addition of 10,000 MW by 2017

NEW DELHI : India is about to launch the largest bidding of solar power projects worth 1,500 MW under its flagship Jawaharlal Nehru National Solar Mission (JNNSM). In what the government officials claim is the first success story of converging the three energy ministries vis-a-vis coal, power and renewable energy, solar power would be bundled with conventional power at such a huge scale in one go.

The bidding, which is a part of second batch of the phase 2 of JNNSM, aims to achieve a capacity addition of 10,000 MW by 2017. The government tendered 750 MW of solar power projects in January this year as part of this phase. While the current solar power capacity of the country is 2,600 MW, government hopes to cross 20,000 MW by 2022.The solar power produced in this phase would be bundled with the existing unallocated quota of conventional power. The pooled power would be sold at an average rate to the distribution companies, who shy away from procuring solar power citing it to be costly.

The bundling of power and its sale would be handled by NVVN (NTPC Vidyut Vyapar Nigam), the power trading arm of power generation giant National Thermal Power Corporation Limited (NTPC). NVVN officials said that the average cost of bundled power would be around Rs 4-4.5 per unit. "We are also hoping that big names in the power sector would bid for huge capacities.

The capacity being so huge this time, NVVN is also holding talks for connectivity with 'central transmission unit' for alignment with the main grid," said a senior NVVN official.NVVN, which was at the helm of handling solar mission when it was launched in 2010, pulled out of it last year due to procedural delays. "With both power and renewable energy under the same minister, it was easy to co-ordinate with the power department to allocate conventional power for bundling solar power," said a senior official at the ministry of new and renewable energy (MNRE).

Confirming the development, Tarun Kapoor, joint secretary, MNRE said, "We are in consultation with all the stakeholders and would come out with bidding guidelines soon, most likely the bidding would commence by July-August." Minister Piyush Goyal, who is responsible for the three key energy portfolios, had earlier indicated at setting up of higher targets and advancing the timeline of the solar mission.

Government is also pushing for ultra mega power projects of 1,000 MW each for solar. Solar power price has come down to Rs 6.5-7 per unit, a 60% decline in the last three years. The last batch of bidding under JNNSM had fixed tariff of Rs 5.45 per unit supported with viability gap funding.

"It was the effort of NVVN that the average cost of power came down in the first phase. The bidding saw solar power cost crashing to Rs 8-10 per unit from Rs 17 per unit in 2011," said a MNRE official adding that the ministry is hopeful of achieving grid parity for solar by 2017.

India PM Modi targets "saffron" revolution for solar energy

Government plan offers prospect of solar boost, but gas, coal and oil likely to remain part of long-term energy mix.

India Prime Minister Narendra Modi wants to boost the country's solar industry in a bid to drive the economy and cut the number of blackouts.

Today's Presidential Address outlining the new government's plans emphasised that growth and containing food prices are priorities, together with water use and energy.

"The government will come out with a comprehensive National Energy Policy and focus on development of energy related infrastructure, human resource and technology," said President Pranab Mukherjee.

"It will expand the national solar mission and connect households and industries with gas-grids."

The government will also seek to reform the coal sector – which currently provides the country with 68% of its electricity.

It also outlined plans for a new high-speed rail network, better water management systems and investment in the country's digital capabilities.

590 MW Gujarat Solar Park is Asia's largest

The park is located at village Charanka, in Patan district and is spread across 5,384 acres of unused land. The of one-of-its-kind "Solar Park" in Gujarat is a commendable example of the eco-friendly initiatives undertaken by the government of Gujarat.

The Nodal Agency for the development of this unique park is the Gujarat Power Corporation Limited (GPCL). The Gujarat Solar Park is one of Asia's largest solar harvesting parks, to mitigate the impact of climate change and to protect the environment, making the solar sector vibrant and viable not only in our nation but also across the globe.

This 590 MW "Solar Park" is located at village Charanka, district Patan in Gujarat and is spread across 5,384 acres of unused land. The integrated "Solar Park" has state of the art infrastructure with the provision of harness ing rainwater, besides power evacuation at the doorstep. The installed capacity is 214 MW from 21 developers, accounting to 25% of the total solar generation developed in India. The Solar Park also has the capacity to generate 100 MW of wind power and already two wind mills, each of 2.1 MW has been commissioned in making the park, which is the biggest solar-wind hybrid park in the world. "Solar Park" also accounts for 3,42,400 tons of Carbon Emission Reductions (CERs), which is one of the largest CERs contributing project in the renewable energy sector.

The development cost of "Solar Park" was Rs 4,500 crore, which includes Rs 550 crore for infrastructure and land acquisition and Rs 3,996 crore for the Solar Power Plant (developers' investment), besides creating employment opportunities for more than 1,000 people on a permanent basis. The "Gujarat Solar Park" has been one of the most innovative projects in the solar energy sector, having a large concentration/cluster of solar power generating units at a single location, thereby reducing the cost substantially (40%), and bringing down solar tariff to pave the way for large-scale development of solar power projects.

The innovative park commissioned by GPCL demonstrates its skills in the implementation of a complicated project in a short time, in spite of several challenges and complications.

Minnesota Adopts First Statewide Method for Calculating the Value of Solar Power.

On Wednesday, the Minnesota Public Utilities Commission voted to become the first state in the nation to come up with a methodology for calculating the value of solar power generated by consumers — and not just how much that power is worth to the utility company and its customers, but to society and the environment as a whole.

As solar energy in particular skyrockets in the US, placing a dollar value on that power has been challenging and is often ignored, which makes Minnesota's effort an even bigger step.

As solar energy in particular skyrockets in the US, placing a dollar value on that power has been challenging and is often ignored, which makes Minnesota's effort an even bigger step. "Minnesota has really set itself apart by determining a methodology to calculate the true value of solar to the electricity grid — a value that should include the full range of benefits as well as the costs," said Mari Hernandez, energy research associate at the Center for American Progress.

"This decision could influence other states as they evaluate how to move forward with their own solar-related policies."

Latest News

New Concentrating Solar Tower Is Worth Its Salt with 24/7 Power

Solar Reserve’s 110MW Crescent Dune plant in Nevada, US, will deliver more than 500,000 MW-hours of electricity per year, and requires zero natural gas. Photograph: Solar Reserve

Vast Solar is gradually build up its solar thermal plant in Jemalong, New South Wales, and will soon have 6MW capacity. Photograph: Vast Solar

India To Spend 5,000 Crore Rupees On Rooftop Solar Power Through 2021

Municipal bodies told to use solar power for lighting

Bengal proposes world's largest solar power plant

India to invite bidding for largest solar power project; aims to achieve

India PM Modi targets "saffron" revolution for solar energy

590 MW Gujarat Solar Park is Asia's largest

Minnesota Adopts First Statewide Method for Calculating the Value

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