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The obvious problem with solar power is that the sun doesn’t shine at night, but quite a few solar makers are turning to molten salt to help with that problem. This morning SolarReserve, a Santa Monica, Calif.-based startup that collects solar power with mirrors and stores energy in the form of super-hot liquid salt, says it plans to build a 100 MW solar plant in the Nevada desert and sell the power to utility NV Energy.
The site, called the Crescent Dunes Solar Energy Project, will be located near the town of Tonopah, in Nye County, Nev., and is being developed by a SolarReserve subsidiary called Tonopah Solar Energy, LLC. The project, which is supposed to start construction toward the end of 2010, is estimated to produce 480,000 megawatt-hours annually, or enough to power about 75,000 homes during peak power.
While there are a lot of players building solar thermal technology — power plants that use mirrors and lenses to concentrate sunlight to power a steam turbine — SolarReserve is one of a small handful of companies looking into salt-based energy storage technology. SolarReserve licenses its molten salt energy storage tech from United Technologies Corp (s UTX) (a company that spun out of a division of UTC called Rocketdyne) and NV Energy President and CEO Michael Yackira said that the salt system was a “key factor” when selecting the vendor.
SolarReserve has large ambitions and has said it plans to built 5 GW of utility-scale solar thermal plants all over the world, ranging in size from 30 to 500 megawatts. The company filed an application for a 150 MW plant in the California desert east of Palm Springs and had its technology demonstrated more than 10 years ago (via Rocketdyne) in a facility called “Solar II,” which was built in conjunction with the Department of Energy in Barstow, Calif.
SolarReserve will need significant funding to reach its goals. Founded just at the beginning of 2008, the company raised a hefty $140 million in September 2008 in a second round of funding from Citi Alternative Investments, Sustainable Development Investments, Good Energies, U.S. Renewables Group, PCG Clean Energy & Technology Fund, Nimes Capital and Credit Suisse. A SolarReserve spokesperson tells us the company is fully-funded until 2011.
Other solar companies that are looking to use hot liquid salt for energy storage include SkyFuel, with its “SkyTrough” technology, and Spanish renewable energy giant Abengoa.