NREL’s just-released Renewable Electricity Futures study concluded the most abundant U.S. renewable resource is solar. The U.S. technical potential of utility-scale photovoltaic (PV) was estimated at 80,000 gigawatts. Concentrating Solar Power (CSP) was 37,000 gigawatts. Distributed PV was estimated at 700 gigawatts.
The U.S. needs about 1100 gigawatts of electricity production capacity, so the race is on between PV and CSP to capture the market that other utility-scale renewables don’t. BrightSource, SolarReserve and Abengoa, emerging forces in CSP solar power tower technology, are working on large-scale technologies. ESolar is going the other way.
“What is so unique about our technology is the modular nature of it and the scalability,” explained eSolar President/CEO John Van Scoter. “Instead of one-size-fits-all,” he said, “we can literally build these up just like building blocks and adapt to different customer requirements.”
ESolar’s Sierra SunTower in California has been in operation since 2009, and its Bikaner power tower in India has been in operation since last April. Its business partners include General Electric (GE) and Babcock & Wilcox, two major energy sector multinationals. And it has a roadmap for scaling its cost down and its reach outward.
The company has just completed phase two of a $50 million move, in partnership with the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) and Babcock & Wilcox, to molten salt storage. “That will dramatically reduce the LCOE [levelized cost of electricity] delivered to the grid compared to steam-only non-storage systems,” Van Scoter said. “We chose to move the roadmap in that direction back in 2010 in order to be competitive,” he added.
The LCOE reduction is, Van Scoter acknowledged, to compete with PV. ESolar’s roadmap, he said, shows industry LCOE predictions for both crystalline silicon and thin-film PV. “Our objective is to compete straight-up with the best-in-class PVs on an ongoing basis but have the advantage of being dispatchable with storage.”
Van Scoter expects to beat PV with the company’s first commercial deployment of a solar power tower with molten salt storage in 2014-2015. “We know where PV is going to be, so we can back into where the capex for the system has to be. We break down that capex for the individual sub-systems. And we are designing the cost for each of those individual sub-systems.”