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A huge solar farm with molten salt storage is ready to go live in Arizona

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Abengoa SolanaAfter almost three years of construction, $2 billion in funding, a controversial Department of Energy loan guarantee, and 2,000 jobs created, a large and unique solar farm about 70 miles southwest of Phoenix, Arizona, is now ready to produce power. This is Solana, developed by Spanish engineering powerhouse Abengoa, and it uses hundreds of parabolic-shaped mirrors that concentrate the suns rays to produce electricity as well as an industry first deployment of molten salt-based thermal energy storage technology.

Most of the solar farms that use these types of mirrors and lenses to concentrate sun light to produce heat and drive turbines, are turning to energy storage technologies to produce power when the sun goes down or behind a cloud. But Solana is the first one to actually start using it in the U.S. In contrast to this type of concentrating solar technology, solar panels convert the sun’s light directly into electricity.

At Solana, the energy storage technology uses tanks of molten salt that hold high amounts of heat for long periods of time. When the sun is out full blast, the solar farm produces a lot of heat and pumps some of that into the molten salt tanks. When the sun goes behind a cloud, or at night, the farm can turn to the energy storage tech to offer power for another six hours. One of the criticisms of solar tech is that it can’t provide continuous power the way that a coal or natural gas plant can, so energy storage tech is a way to make solar more competitive.

Image (2) abengoa-trough.jpg for post 61199The power from Solana will be enough to provide electricity for 70,000 households, or 280 MW. Arizona’s largest utility Arizona Public Service (APS) will purchase all of the solar power from the farm.

The farm is using “parabolic trough” technology, which is a type of tech that has been used in a variety of solar farms throughout the years. The other option for these large concentrating solar farms is “power tower” technology which uses mirrors and lenses to focus light onto central towers. BrightSource uses this tech at its Ivanpah solar farm near Las Vegas.

The farm cost $2 billion to build and was part of the controversial loan guarantee program from the Department of Energy. Abengoa was awarded a $1.45 billion loan guarantee in 2010 — the largest for clean power out of that program. Loan guarantees are when the DOE commits to back up a loan if the company defaults.

Now that the farm is built and it’s on time, it’s an example of how the DOE loan program was instrumental in getting clean energy technology deployed. The program also supported BrightSource’s farm.

17 Responses to “A huge solar farm with molten salt storage is ready to go live in Arizona”

  1. RenewEnergy

    This is far to heavy a price to pay for minimal storage capability. We already have storage facilities, like pumped hydro (been around for 50 years), underutilized and already paid off. Wind/solar should be feeding power into pumped hydro storage facilities. Molten salt batteries have been around for decades, and are far more expensive than pumped hydro.

    This is a boon-doogle any way you look at it.

  2. Will Dunbar

    Impressive working tech demonstration, and only $2 billion. For anyone with a passing knowledge of power generation, this amount of money is tiny compared to the amount sunk into nuclear, oil, gas and coal development.

    I think everyone needs reminding, the “fuel source” isn’t going to run out for a few billion years. Not a bad investment.

    • LSwinney,
      Obviously you can’t read well . It’s two billion dollars for the entire plant which runs all during the day time and then has six hours of storage for after sundown and gas backup can run all night long but late night the power demand is asleep.
      How did you bother to read these blogs and have an interest in renewables with probably a one track mind stuck on PV solar?

      Lets see
      Cost of land
      Environmental study’s
      Interconnect feasibility study
      Utility security deposits
      Cost of loan
      Acquisition of material for project
      Labor to install at Union wages
      Management/Development costs
      Oh ya and a profit for the EPC contractor
      Three years of red tape before starting project
      City , State, County, Federal approvals with fees

      And it will outlast any PV plant , ever heard of SEGS 1 through 9 ?

  3. Frank Bruce

    Solar power is great…..but why not us Bensleys Enterprises Australia’s new technology for existing coal fired power stations that is said to reduce emissions 70% and increase power output by 50%…….. Making it a win- win situation for both power stations and the environment ……. And it won’t cost 200,000,000

    • SolarGuy

      Do you have a link for this supposedly new and great Solar + Coal technology please? 70% emissions reduction and 50% power output increase sounds way too good to be true. How does one increase the power output of an existing plant, exactly?

  4. SolarGuy

    The Solana plant is 250 MWe net to the grid – not 280. NREL’s troughnet web page reports

    944,000 MWh/yr of electricity production so that gives a capacity factor of:

    944,000 MWh/yr / (8760 h/yr * 250 MW) = 43.1%

    The link above also states that the plant occupies 1257 hectares or 3106 acres of land. So we have 0.08 peak MW per acre.

    I have heard that the energy from this plant had a first year price of about $140/MWh which is more than double what the energy from utility scale PV farms is going for. Sure, the storage is cool but it is too expensive. PV with gas back up is a much better way to go. As a beleaguered tax a rate payer I hope we don’t see any more of these white elephant plants built.

  5. M. R. Schuppenhauer

    $7/W CapEx, and if you assume 10 year run time and 3% OpEx from CapEx power would be around 10c/kWh is you have 280MW 100% available.

    But what is the capacity factor of the 280 MW???

    • Wes Newbold

      agree’d with previous – what’s the capacity factor of 280MW?

      Also @MySchizo – I’d say $2B for a 280MW solar power plant with new technologies isn’t too bad given that it’s “new technology” and was completed on budget and on schedule.

    • Ken Farley

      Not when you consider the long term implications. Do you think we can keep burning fossil fuel? I don’t. Do you think that nuclear is a safe clean energy? I don’t. Think of the dangers and pollution that these antiquated technologies produce, not to mention the toll on human, animal and plant life. The time to get off of oil was 1960 not 2060.