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US energy firm selected for African CSP plant

South Africa order heralds a key milestone for BrightSource

BrightSource Energy’s power tower solar thermal technology
BrightSource Energy’s power tower solar thermal technology is the solution of choice for South Africa’s Sasol

US firm BrightSource Energy has secured a contract to supply its concentrated solar power (CSP) technology for a utility-scale project planned by energy company Sasol in South Africa. The deal represents a “significant milestone” for the company, as it expands its high-efficiency solar thermal power systems globally.

John Woolard, president and CEO of BrightSource Energy, said: “Today, South Africa meets more than 85 per cent of its power needs with coal. With great solar resources and a need for firm and reliable power to meet its growing industrial power needs, South Africa represents an ideal market for BrightSource’s solar thermal technology.”

Under the agreement, BrightSource and its partner Alstom, global leader in power generation equipment, will first conduct a comprehensive front-end engineering and design (FEED) study. Sasol will then use the information to determine how best to deploy the CSP technology in the markets it serves.

The project “has the potential of significantly expanding Sasol’s new energy portfolio and will in turn contribute to the country’s transition to a low carbon economy”, said Henri Loubser, managing director of Sasol New Energy.

BrightSource’s power tower solar thermal technology generates power the same way as traditional power plants – by creating high temperature steam to turn a turbine. Its system uses a field of heliostats (software-controlled mirrors) to reflect the sun’s energy to a boiler atop a tower to produce the high temperature and high pressure steam. The steam can then be integrated with conventional power plant components to produce predictable, reliable and cost-competitive clean energy.

In addition the low impact heliostat layout is flexible, allowing the solar field to be built around the natural contours of the land and avoid areas of sensitive vegetation.

BrightSource says: “In order to conserve scarce water resources, the technology employs an air-cooling system to convert the steam back into water in a closed-loop cycle. By using air-cooling, BrightSource’s technology uses more than 90 per cent less water than older technology parabolic trough plants with wet cooling.”

BrightSource recently started operations at its Solar-to-Steam facility built for Chevron in Coalinga California. In the meantime, its technology is being deployed at Ivanpah, the largest solar thermal plant under construction in the world. Ivanpah is scheduled for start up in 2013.