Federal government approves second SolarReserve solar power plant

December 21, 2010

solarreserveThe federal government has signed off on another big solar power plant, approving a land lease Monday for SolarReserve’s 110-megawatt Crescent Dunes Solar Energy Project in Nevada that will store energy for up to eight hours after the sun sets.

The Department of Interior action is the second approval of a solar thermal power station to be built by SolarReserve, a Santa Monica, Calif., startup that licenses its technology from United Technologies Corp. Last week, the California Energy Commission green lighted SolarReserve’s 150-megawatt Rice Solar Energy Project to be built in Southern California.

At both projects, thousands of large mirrors — each one 24 feet by 28 feet — will be attached to 12-foot pedestals. The mirrors, called heliostats, will be arrayed in a circle around a 538-foot concrete tower.

A 100-foot receiver filled with liquid salt will be attached to the top of the tower. The heliostats will focus the sun on the receiver, heating the salt to 1,050 degrees Fahrenheit. The liquefied salt flows through a steam-generating system to drive the turbine and is returned to the receiver to be heated again.

The stored heat can be released when the sun doesn’t shine to create steam.

By using salt for both creating steam and for storage, SolarReserve can generate higher-temperature steam, which will allow the Rice power plant to operate much more efficiently, according to SolarReserve executives.

“Crescent Dunes joins a host of renewable energy projects on public lands in the West that are opening a new chapter on how our nation is powered,” Ken Salazar, the Interior Secretary, said in a statement. “Using American ingenuity, we are creating jobs, stimulating local economies and spurring a sustainable, clean energy industrial base that will strengthen our nation’s energy security.”

The Crescent Dunes power plant will be built near Tonopah, Nev., about 215 miles northeast of Las Vegas. SolarReserve has signed a 25-year contract to supply the electricity generated by the project to NV Energy.

At peak output, Crescent Dunes will produce enough electricity to power about 75,000 homes and will create 450 jobs when construction begins next year, the company said.

(Image courtesy of SolarReserve.)

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