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A smarter mirror for cheaper solar power

Rather than try to reinvent the solar cell, startup Thermata has engineered a high-tech mirror to cut the cost of solar power.

The company, incubated at Idealabs, has completed initial testing on a system executives say can cut the cost of sun-tracking mirrors, or heliostats, in half using cameras and other digital technologies. Thermata plans to start beta testing the heliostats this year with potential customers, which are concentrating solar power technology companies, and with Sandia National Laboratories.

Thermata typifies a new breed of green-technology startup which is targeting a specific niche in energy using technologies from other fields. Its … Read more

Low-cost solar PV claims solar thermal victim

Solar Millennium said today it has begun insolvency proceedings, the second German solar manufacturer to do so this month.

The company has been trying to sell its pipeline of large-scale concentrating solar projects in the U.S. But because Solar Millennium was not able to negotiate desired terms, it had to enter into insolvency to "save existing assets," the company said in a statement.

Solar Millennium is considered a concentrating solar power pioneer. The news of Solar Millennium's financial woes is the latest event in a wrenching industry shakeout that has caused bankruptcies at a number of … Read more

Molten salt keeps solar power flowing

By storing solar energy in molten salt, BrightSource Energy can now build one less solar power plant.

The company said today that it is adding energy storage to three planned solar projects that will supply power to utility Southern California Edison.

Instead of building seven power plants to provide about 4 million megawatt-hours per year, BrightSource now expects to be able to meet that with six concentrating solar plants to be built over the next six years, including three that will have storage. It is now constructing its first project, the Ivanpah Solar Electric Generating System, which will not have … Read more

BrightSource plans third giant solar-power plant

BrightSource Energy today disclosed plans to build a 750-megawatt solar power plant in California, which would be its third and largest utility-scale project.

The company said that the Rio Mesa Solar Electric Generating Facility will use its solar tower technology, where a field of mirrors reflects light onto a tower to create steam that drives a turbine to generate electricity. The project would generate enough electricity to power more than 300,000 homes, BrightSource said.

The plan calls for installing three towers able to generate 250 megawatts each (before accounting for the energy consumed by their operation).

BrightSource earlier this … Read more

Solar dish maker Stirling files for bankruptcy

Solar company Stirling Energy Systems has filed for bankruptcy, another casualty of a brutal global price war that is favoring commodity photovoltaic panels.

The Scottsdale, Arizona-based company filed for Chapter 7 bankruptcy late last week. The utility-scale solar company's largest investor is renewable energy developer NTR of Dublin, Ireland.

Founded in 1996, Stirling Energy Systems makes a large, 38-foot-high reflective dish which concentrates sunlight onto a Stirling engine to generate electricity. The 25-kilowatt SunCatcher dishes are designed to be used as building blocks for utility-scale solar farms in desert areas with sufficient sunlight.

After decades of development including a … Read more

Solar power plant switches to PV from thermal

Developers of the giant Blythe Solar Power Project in California have switched from solar thermal technology to photovoltaic solar panels, one of a string of similar changes at large-scale solar projects.

Solar Millennium today said that the first 500-megawatt phase of the Blythe plant will use photovoltaic (PV) panels because the economics work better.

The company earlier this year had received a conditional loan guarantee from the Department of Energy to develop a concentrating solar thermal plant, where heat from mirrored troughs makes steam that is passed through a turbine to generate electricity. But Germany-based Solar Millennium and its U.… Read more

BrightSource adds salt for solar power at night

BrightSource Energy today announced molten salt energy storage for its heat-driven solar power plants, touting the advantages over flat solar photovoltaic panels.

With the storage, BrightSource solar power plants can deliver electricity to the grid consistently and into the evening hours. That makes the solar power more valuable because utilities pay more for power during peak hours, which continues past nightfall.

BrightSource's solar tower technology generates steam from a field of mirrors called heliostats shining onto a tower. The steam is fed into a conventional turbine to generate electricity. After turning the turbine, the steam is condensed into water … Read more

Solar plant with molten-salt storage gets green light

Solar Reserve said today it has the federal permitting approvals it needs to begin construction of a concentrated solar power plant with enough storage to operate after the sun goes down.

The Santa Monica, Calif.-based company said the U.S. Department of the Interior approved the "record of decision" for a 110-megawatt solar thermal power plant in Nye County, near Tonopah, Nev. With the authorization, Solar Reserve expects it can start construction by mid-2011.

This Crescent Dunes project will use a field of sun-tracking mirrors, called heliostats, to reflect light onto a tower that holds molten salt. … Read more

Hawaii aims for microthermal solar utopia

It's not every solar project that gets its own ground-blessing ceremony.

But the Kalaeloa Solar One project will pay back native Hawaiians with both energy and rent through a partnership with Keahole Solar Power, Hawaiian start-up Sopogy, and the Department of Hawaiian Home Lands (DHHL).

Which is why there was a ground-blessing ceremony held for the project yesterday in Kalealoa, Oahu, west of Honolulu.

Sopogy is supplying its micro-concentrated solar panels (MicroCSP) for the 5-megawatt thermal solar plant that will tie-in to a new plan for the Kalealoa community near Honolulu.

Sopogy's panels are actually small solar troughs … Read more

Solar power plant plans move ahead in California

After a long drought, large-scale solar power is getting closer to returning to the U.S. desert.

The California Public Utilities Commission on Thursday gave the green light to power purchase agreements which two utilities have with solar power project developers, a key step toward beginning actual construction.

The approvals in California follow a flurry of activity at the Bureau of Land Management, which created a fast-track review process for solar projects on federal land. Both agencies' reviews are required for permitting the projects which, if finalized and financed, would result in a dramatic increase in solar power on the … Read more