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Edge on Solar Power


BrightSource Shines a Light on a Solar Future

October 4th 2010

Energy Topics - BrightSource array

The Israeli-founded solar energy company, BrightSource, is building in California the largest solar-powered steam turbine generator ever built in the world. It hasn’t been without its struggles: environmentalists showed how the original build site for the solar panels interfered with wildlife such as coyotes. The company has responded, for instance, by making plans to relocate a native species of tortoise.

Now it looks like it is full steam ahead for BrightSource. The Israeli business newspaper Globes reports that BrightSource has just raised an additional $30 million, bringing its investment total to $300 million.

According to Globes, BrightSource has also $10 million from the Russian government venture capital fund and private investors. While founded only 4 years ago, BrightSource Energy is the parent company of BrightSource Industries Ltd. BSII has been pioneering solar thermal energy for nearly three decades. 

BrightSource can be traced back to Luz International Ltd. (“Luz”), which revolutionized the power world by proving that solar energy could reliably produce commercially competitive electricity during the heavy use, peak load, day time hours.

Between 1984 and 1991, Luz designed, developed, built, financed, and operated nine Solar Electricity Generating Stations (SEGS) in California’s Mojave Desert generating a total of 354 megawatts. BrightSource Energy was set up to promote activities in the US.

The Wall Street Journal has reported that BrightSource has hired the services of investment banks Morgan Stanley and Goldman Sachs. Although it’s not clear when the public offering will be made, it could come in 2011 if another $200 million or so can be raised before then.

BrightSource is developing more than 4GW of solar power projects in Southwestern states – enough to power 1.4 million homes. BrightSource now has more than 2.6 gigawatts of power under contract, including the two largest solar power agreements ever – 1,300 megawatts with Southern California Edison and 1,310 megawatts with Pacific Gas & Electric Company. The company’s Solar Energy Development Center in Israel’s Negev Desert is demonstrating BrightSource’s Luz Power Tower (LPT) 550 technology and producing the world’s highest temperature and pressure solar thermal steam.

BrightSource operates LPT plants where the heat of the sun is reflected by mirrors known as heliostats to a tower at the center. Running along the tower are water pipes that are heated up to 1000 degrees Fahrenheit or 550 degrees Celsius, generating steam which then powers a turbine. One major difference between BrightSource and other solar power plant operators is that it uses air, rather than water, to cool its power plants, reducing water usage by more than 90 percent.

An additional advantage of BrightSource’s system, according to the company, is that their heliostats are flat, as opposed to parabolic, and therefore smaller, easier and cheaper to install. The position of the mirrors is controlled by a central control system that accounts for a variety of factors such as sun radiation, wind, and air pressure to achieve optimal result.

Karin Kloosterman is the editor of Green Prophet, from where this article is adapted.

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