Big Solar Thermal Power Plants Planned for Florida, California

October 03, 2007

Florida Power and Light (FPL) announced on September 26th that it plans to build a 300-megawatt solar thermal power plant, which will be the state's first commercial solar thermal power facility. The utility will first build a 10-megawatt power plant using technology from Ausra, Inc., which employs flat arrays of Fresnel lenses to focus the sun's heat. Most of today's commercial solar thermal power plants are using parabolic mirrors to focus the sun's heat, a technology that's presumably more expensive and harder to maintain than Fresnel lenses would be, but Ausra's technology is as yet unproven commercially. According to the FPL Group, FPL's parent company, the initial plant in Florida will be expanded to 300 megawatts if the Ausra technology meets its cost and performance goals. The FPL Group also plans to develop 200 megawatts of solar thermal power in California within the next seven years. See the FPL Group press release and the description of the technology on the Ausra Web site.

The FPL Group has also joined with Ausra and a northern California utility, Pacific Gas and Electric Company (PG&E), in a separate commitment to build 1,000 megawatts of solar thermal power over the next 20 years. PG&E also committed to purchasing an additional 1,000 megawatts of solar thermal power over the next five years. All the commitments were made as part of the annual meeting of the Clinton Climate Initiative. See the press releases from Ausra and PG&E.

PG&E had already announced plans to develop nearly 1,000 megawatts of solar thermal power with the help of two solar thermal power companies: Solel Solar Systems and BrightSource Energy, Inc. Solel plans to build a 553-megawatt power plant using parabolic mirror technology, while BrightSource plans to use "distributed power towers," a technology that draws upon a field of flat, sun-tracking mirrors to focus the sun's heat on a tower. BrightSource filed an application with the California Energy Commission in early September to build a 400-megawatt plant that would consist of 20 separate 20-megawatt power towers. See the press releases from PG&E, the BrightSource technology description, and the BrightSource press release (PDF 120 KB). Download Adobe Reader.