By Karin Kloosterman
An Israeli company and a Californian one are making solar power history: Southern California Edison (SCE) and BrightSource Energy from Israel have signed the world's largest solar energy deal.
Now awaiting approval from the California Public Utilities Commission, when the contracts are fulfilled -- this could happen by as early as 2013 -- the Israeli-CA sun project will power almost 1 million California homes.
Israel Kroizer, the chief operating officer, and president of BrightSource in Israel tells ISRAEL21c that when completed, it will be the world's largest solar energy project. Some 1,300 megawatts of energy will be created, with the first plant to be built in Ivanpah, California, expected to generate 286,000 megawatt-hours per year. The project will also create more jobs in the region.
"It's the biggest solar energy project ever signed," Kroizer emphasizes, and when complete it will be the largest solar energy plant in the world, he adds.
Towering sun stations
Last year, BrightSource created a media sensation when it launched its pilot plant in Israel's Negev Desert. Employing thousands of tiny mirrors called heliostats, BrightSource unveiled the Luz Power Tower -- the LPT 550 -- to reflect sunlight from the heliostats onto a boiler atop a tower. Producing steam from the concentrated heat, the steam is piped to a turbine to generate electricity.
Built with water-conserving principles in mind, the BrightSource system uses air-cooling to convert the steam back into water. The environmentally friendly closed cycle solution is, according to the company, designed to offer the highest operating efficiencies and lowest costs in the industry.
"We opened a pilot in Israel last year -- a demo plant to run some tests -- and we were really satisfied with the results. Now we are focusing in the States, and will respond to the [solar energy] tender being published in Israel. Israel is a target market for us, but it's not the same size as the US," Kroizer tells ISRAEL21c.
As part of the deal with its American partner SCE, BrightSource will maintain its engineering and logistics facilities in Israel. Equipment will be purchased from around the world, while the company's corporate offices for project and business development and financing will continue working out of Oakland, California. BrightSource, which was officially founded in 2004, and started operating in 2006, employs 30 people in the US, and 90 in Israel.
Next Up: Arizona and New Mexico
In a few months, Kroizer says, BrightSource will start constructing the solar project in the US, and next on its list for solar energy power plants are US sunny states -- all over southwest California, Arizona and New Mexico.
In the United States, BrightSource's partner SCE, is the country's leading buyer of renewables. In 2007, it purchased about 80 percent of all the solar energy used in the US. As the largest electric utilities company in California, it serves a population of about 13 million people, living within a 50,000-square-mile area in central, coastal and Southern California.
"These contracts represent a significant addition to our renewable portfolio, which is already the nation?s largest." said Stuart Hemphill, the VP of Renewable and Alternative Power at SCE. "This innovative solar technology helps to further our position as the nation's largest purchaser of solar energy, as well."
The World Economic Forum voted BrightSource as a 2009 Technology Pioneer. It was the only solar company to win this year's award, and is recognized for helping industrial customers reduce their dependence on fossil fuels.
While BrightSource's contribution is significant -- the new plants will prevent two million tons of carbon dioxide greenhouse gases emissions from entering the atmosphere annually (about 335,000 cars-worth of emissions) -- it's not a golden bullet solution.
Says Kroizer: "I think it's important to have a variety of energy solutions. Solar energy won't solve the world's problems; we need a variety of solutions and solar can be one of them. Solar can supply a very nice percentage of energy in sunny countries," he concludes.