BrightSource chief exec: CSP in the US will continue to grow

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Concentrating solar power (CSP) in the US would continue to see growth despite the expiration of government funding for large-scale installations, the chief executive officer of BrightSource Energy said yesterday.

John Woolard said that the current build-out of CSP in the US could continue as prices declined and technology evolved to include thermal storage.

Woolard told PV-Tech: “We're definitely at the start of the CSP era because our cost curve can drop 30% which wind and PV is already starting to ride down. If you look at the CSP companies out there, you've got a very attractive cost curve as well as the ability to start to integrate very early in the process. We haven't even touched higher pressures and temperatures, we haven't begun to touch high temperature storage, which can shrink the physical space storage needs by a factor of three.

“This is just the beginning. I did software for a while and I'm a great believer in iterations. You build something and you learn – and we're just on the first lap. Every lap you're going to reduce costs and increase performance.”

During his keynote at the Cleantech Forum in San Francisco, Woolard said that the BrightSource Ivanpah plant had the ability to smooth out load curve because it could also burn natural gas.

“It's a bit like bringing your own beer to the party if you have gas, because you can get a flat and reliable shape for your power,” he said.

Woolard added that with solar thermal, the benefits would be even greater, like bringing “your own beer to the party and some for your friends”.

“Four to six hours of storage can allow more of the other intermittent sources to be able to connect to the grid,” he said.

“You can now start to integrate more PV, more wind. That ability to integrate is now part of eight different proceedings at public utilities comissions. It's a big driver of value and economics.”

BrightSource is backed by Google, NRG Energy and Chevron Ventures, among others. Its $2.2 billion Ivanpah project was funded by a $1.6 billion Department of Energy 1705 loan guarantee. The company has a total pipeline of 1.GW, with 392MW under construction at Ivanpah. Its other projects, Palen (500 MW), Hidden Hills (500 MW) and Ashalim (120MW) in Israel are at a stage of advanced development.

GTM Research estimates that 940MW of CSP is expected to come online in the US in 2013. Installed CSP capacity will peak in 2014 at 1,944 MW dropping to 412MW by 2016.

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