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World’s largest solar power towers to be built in US

Abengoa and BrightSource Energy join to build 500MW concentrated solar power Palen complex

The agreement between Abengoa and BrightSource Energy marks the latest addition to solar power towers

Two western technology companies are to build the world’s biggest solar power towers in the US. Spanish firm Abengoa, an international company that applies innovative technology solutions for sustainable development in the energy and environment sectors, and BrightSource Energy, a leading concentrating solar thermal technology company in the US, has signed an agreement to jointly develop, build and operate the world’s two largest solar power towers in California.

As joint partners, the two pioneers in solar power tower technology will work together to permit and finance the 500MW Palen Solar Electric Generating System. Abengoa will build the plants as the engineering, procurement and construction contractor, and will lead the operation and maintenance of the plants once online. BrightSource will provide the solar field technology and plant design.
The Palen project consists of two 250MW units located in a Department of Interior Solar Energy Zone in Riverside County, California. Together the plants will produce enough electricity to power 200,000 households and will prevent the emission of about 17 million tonnes of CO2 over its life cycle.

Abengoa said: “With permitting and development under way, construction is expected to begin at the end of 2013 and will create more than 2,000 jobs. The solar plants are expected to come online in 2016.”

Solar tower power

Solar power towers generate power by creating high temperature steam to turn a turbine. At the heart of the system is a state-of-the-art solar field design, optimisation software and control system that allow for the creation of high temperature steam. The steam is then integrated with conventional power plant turbines to produce predictable, reliable and cost-competitive clean energy.

Each unit at Palen will feature a 750ft tall tower that allows for a high concentration of heliostats. This design significantly reduces the amount of land required to produce energy - up to 33 per cent less than a typical photovoltaic (PV) farm. Additionally, the design places mirrors on individual poles placed directly into the ground without concrete foundations, allowing the solar field to be built around the natural contours of the land, to retain native vegetation under the mirrors, and to avoid areas of sensitive vegetation.

The Palen site has already received authorisation from the California Energy Commission (CEC) for construction and operation of the 500MW solar thermal project. In December 2012, BrightSource filed an amendment to the existing permit seeking authorisation to deploy the solar power tower technology.

Abengoa said converting the project to solar power tower technology and low impact design will result in significantly less impacts than would have occurred under the original permits. The new design will reduce the project footprint by 13 per cent, from 4,366 acres to approximately 3,800 acres, and use 50 per cent less water by deploying a dry-cooling technology.

Pooling solar experience

Abengoa and BrightSource said they are both leaders in solar tower technologies and are pooling their collective experience. Abengoa operates four solar towers in Southern Europe, including the first in commercial operation worldwide since 2007, and is currently building a fifth tower in South Africa.

BrightSource has solar towers in operation in Coalinga, California, and in the Negev Desert and its technology is currently being deployed at the 377MW Ivanpah Solar Electric Generating System, the largest solar tower facility under construction in the world.