BrightSource Lands Chevron Deal

BrightSource Energy has landed its first-ever project to use its solar thermal technology for steam generation. The Oakland, Calif.-based startup said Friday it has been tapped by Chevronto build a 29-megawatt thermal plant at Chevron’s oil field in centralCalifornia, said Keely Wachs, a spokesman for BrightSource.

BrightSource is better known as the startup that has inked 2.6gigawatts worth of deals with California utilities to sell themelectricity by building solar thermal power plants (see BrightSource, PG&E Sign 1.31GW Deal in California).

The solar thermal power market and solar thermal steam market rely on the same core ideas and technology:mirrors concentrate heat from the sun onto water in a container. Thewater then turns to steam. In a power plant, though, the steam getspiped into a turbine to generate electricity. In an industrial steamproject, the steam is used directly to clean equipment, pump liquidsfrom the ground or kill germs. Industrial steam projects are alsosignificantly smaller and don’t require the same sort of permittingheadaches. Cutting out the generator, of course, additionally shavescosts.

"It gives us an opportunity for this potentially lucrative secondary market and help Chevron with carbon reduction," Wachs said.

BrightSource isn’t alone in pursuing opportunities beyond powergeneration. Abengoa, which has built solar thermal power plants inSpain, has constructed a 2.4-megawatt solar thermal plant for Frito-Lay to make potato and corn chips in Modesto, Calif.

Mountain View, Calif.-based Ausra, which started off as a power plant builder and producer, changed its business planin the past year to focus on supplying its solar thermal equipment toindustrial operations such as coal mines and food processing plants.Pasadena, Calif.-based eSolar will also sell equipment to industrialpartners.

BrightSource began working the project for Chevron in June, Wachssaid. But Chevron didn’t discuss it publicly until Thursday night, whenit presented the project at a Coalinga City Council meeting. Chevron’soil field is near the city, within Fresno County.

Chevron has relied on natural gas-powered equipment to generatesteam, which is pumped into wells for heating up the petroleum to makeit easier to extract.

The oil giant is turning to solar thermal partly because thelocation is flat and gets lots of sun, a Chevron executives said at thecouncil meeting (via Reuters).

Chevron also has invested in BrightSource via its Chevron Technology Ventures.

BrightSource plans to install 3,800 flat mirrors, or heliostats, ona 100-acre site owned by Chevron. Wachs declined to disclose the costof the project, which is scheduled for completion in 2010.

BrightSource has pursued the Chevron project for over a year, hesaid. The project not only opens a new market for the solar thermalcompany, it also gives it a showcase for its equipment in America.

The company already has built a 6-megawatt demonstration plant inIsrael to showcase its technology. But most of its power plant projectsare in California and undergoing federal and state regulatory review.Rival eSolar, meanwhile, already has a 5-megawatt plant in the UnitedStates.

BrightSource plans to build the power projects in phases, startingwith a 100-megawatt plant in the Mojave Desert. The company is fartheralong than just about anyone in securing permits to build solar thermalpower plants in the California desert.

Construction could start before the end of the year, though it’smore likely to be in early 2010, Wachs said. The company has appliedfor a loan guarantee to finance some of its power projects, though ithasn’t said how much it’s looking for.

Image courtesy of BrightSource Energy.


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