Concentrated solar power tower technology developer Brightsource Energy is keen to develop projects in South Africa, where in the Northern Cape solar irradiation is well-suited for this technology.
Brightsource Energy projects senior VP Jose Barak tells Engineering News Online that the company is looking for developers in South Africa to partner with. Alstom, which has significant experience in the South African power generation industry, is a major shareholder in Brightsource Energy, and the two companies have partnered with a view to supply projects in different regions, including South Africa. However, before projects can be developed, clarity from key decision makers on the country’s renewable energy regime is awaited.
South Africa’s recently promulgated Integrated Resource Plan, developed in 2010, indicates that the country seeks to build 17,8 GW of renewable energy generation by 2030, however, owing to delays in the renewable energy feed-in tariff (Refit), projects have been slow to materialise.
Brightsource Energy designed the Ivanpah solar generating electric system, which is currently under construction in California. At 392 MW, it will be the world’s largest solar project when completed in 2013. The project will consist of three solar thermal power plant units and the power generated will be sold under separate contracts with Pacific Gas and Electric and Southern California Edison.
In April 2011, Brightsource finalised $1,6-billion in loans guaranteed by the US Department of Energy‘s Loan Programs Office. In October 2010, NRG Solar committed to invest up to $300-million to become the lead investor in the project, which was followed by Google, which made a $168-million investment.
Barak explained that Google was convinced to enter into the project owing to the amount of intelligent technology that is involved in the project. Brightsource made a strategic decision to focus on information technology in its projects, as costs of these components was decreasing, as opposed to the costs of other materials such as steel and concrete.
He noted that every individual heliostat (the Ivanpah project will consist of 175 000) is individually controlled to track the sun and direct the beam towards the central tower, which also contains a computer system. There are also many trackers and cameras used in the solar field. These all link to a main control systems facility.
Brightsource explains that its LPT 550 solar thermal technology produces electricity the same way as traditional power plants, through creating high temperature steam to turn a turbine. However, instead of using fossil fuels to create the steam, the company’s proprietary software is used to control the heliostats to reflect sunlight onto a boiler filled with water that sits atop a tower.
When the concentrated sunlight hits the boiler, the water inside is heated and creates high temperature steam (about 560 ºC), which is then piped to a conventional turbine, which generates electricity. Barak notes that CSP tower technology has a smaller land-use requirement than other renewable energy technologies such as wind and biomass.
Other benefits include the fact that it can generate power at utility scale, uses less structural steel and cement, and is water efficient, when compared with traditional power generation.
It is also an emission free power source, and the Ivanpah project will have 85% less pollutants when compared with a natural gas-fired power plant.
Brightsource says that implementing its solar technology would also generate job opportunities, as well as stimulate local industrial capacity. The Ivanpah project is set to generate 1 000 jobs in the construction of the project, and another 86 permanent jobs for the on-going management thereafter. Manufacture of required equipment and components could also be localised to the benefit of local industry, which would provide further opportunities for job creation.