CEC Advances Stirling Mega Solar Dish Project

By Published On: May 8, 2009

The California Energy Commission found complete the application for an 850 MW solar energy project that would place tens of thousands of solar dishes on more than 8,000 acres of public land in the Mojave Desert. If eventually built, Stirling Energy Systems’ Solar One project would consist of about 30,000, 25 kW solar dishes, plus associated infrastructure, sitting on 8,230 acres of land managed by the Bureau of Land Management. Output from the facility is expected to be sold under a 20-year power purchase contract between Stirling and Southern California Edison. If the application is approved, the developer hopes to begin construction in late 2010. The solar dishes, known as “SunCatchers,” are about 40 feet tall and about 38 feet in diameter, according to commission project manager Christopher Meyer. Each dish would have a solar receiver heat exchanger and a closed-cycle engine designed to convert solar power to rotary power and then drive an electrical generator to produce electricity. “As each of these SunCatchers come on, they can connect to the grid instead of having to wait for the full project to come online,” Meyer said. The commission had planned to deem the permit application complete at an earlier meeting, but the application had been deemed “data inadequate.” In other words, the agency determined that information on the proposed facility was lacking. A revised application was submitted last month. The project’s first phase would involve the development of 500 MW of capacity. Another 350 MW would come on line if the second phase expansion is successful. The plan is for most of the power to be generated during peak times, when electricity demand is greatest and when solar power is most available. Although a build-out of the project is expected to take more than three years, renewable power would be available to the grid as each 60-unit group comprised of 25 kW dishes is completed, Meyer said. The vote finding the application sufficient was unanimous. Also during its May 6 meeting, the commission extended by 30 months and $1.9 million a contract with the University of California to continue long-term research into enabling technologies for demand response. The commission also approved a $2.1 million contract with UC Berkeley to conduct research on reducing energy use and improving performance of commercial buildings.

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