What Do Google, Chevron and Goldman Sachs have in common ?  

Posted by Big Gav in , , , , , , , ,

Bloomberg has an article on the rush to build solar thermal power plants in California, with Google being joined by Chevron and Goldman Sachs in investing in Brightsource - Google, Chevron Build Mirrors in Desert to Beat Coal With Solar.

Along a dusty two-lane highway in California's Mojave Desert, 550,000 mirrors point skyward to make steam for electricity. Google Inc., Chevron Corp. and Goldman Sachs Group Inc. are betting this energy will become cheaper than coal.

The 1,000-acre plant uses concentrated sunlight to generate power for as many as 112,500 homes in Southern California. Rising natural gas prices and emissions limits may make solar thermal the fastest-growing energy source in the next decade, say backers including Vinod Khosla, the founder of computer maker Sun Microsystems Inc.

Costs for the technology will fall below coal as soon as 2020, the U.S. government estimates. JPMorgan Chase & Co. and Wells Fargo & Co. invested last year in the biggest solar plant built in a generation; Chevron and Google are funding research; and Goldman Sachs is seeking land to lease as demand outpaces wind turbines and geothermal. ...

Costs for solar thermal may fall as low as 3.5 cents a kilowatt hour by 2020, according to a report commissioned by the U.S. Energy Department. Meanwhile, coal expenses may rise. Congress is considering limits on carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gas emissions. The purchase of pollution permits may be required under a measure the Senate will begin debating next month.

`To Beat Coal'

Ausra's plants will produce electricity at 10 cents a kilowatt-hour starting in 2010, and the price will fall to 8 cents a few years later as it adopts systems with fewer parts that will be less costly when widely deployed, the company says. ``We are going to beat coal,'' says Bob Fishman, Ausra's chief executive officer. His company has a contract with PG&E Corp.'s Pacific Gas & Electric for a site in central California.

Chevron, Goldman Sachs, FPL, PG&E and other companies have filed more than 50 applications with the Bureau of Land Management to lease government-owned desert property for solar power systems. Chevron, which has invested in the solar thermal builder BrightSource Energy Inc. in Oakland, California, and Goldman, the biggest U.S. securities firm, declined to comment.

Google's philanthropic division put $10 million into eSolar, a start-up in Pasadena, California. Dan Reicher, a former Energy Department official who manages the unit's climate and energy initiatives, said there will be more such investments.



The Bloomberg article points to this report from the NREL last year to congress on the Potential impact of CSP for electricity generation (pdf), quoting a likely cost of CSP power of 5 cents per kilowatt by 2020.
Between 2000 and 2003, four reports were released on the potential for CSP. An assessment of the main issues raised by these reports leads to the following conclusions:

1. Further technology development and deployment could reduce the cost of CSP: The S&L study quantified the significant cost reductions that are possible with continued technology development and deployment. It concluded that there were three elements that could reduce the cost of CSP from approximately 12 cents/kWh today to about 5 cents/kWh by 2020: technology development (42 percent), building larger plants (37 percent), and volume production (21 percent). All four studies mentioned in this report are in agreement that the costs of CSP would fall with greater levels of deployment.

2. CSP requires policy incentives for initial deployment: All the reports emphasized that in the near-term, deployment of CSP depends on the establishment of policy incentives that offset the current higher cost of solar energy. The CSP industry provided a list of incentives it stated were necessary to initiate deployment. These were included in DOE’s 2002 report. Six southwestern States have now established renewable portfolio standards, and the Federal Government has created an investment tax credit that encourages the deployment of CSP. These policies have resulted in the establishment of CSP projects in California, Arizona, and Nevada that could result in 2,000 MW by 2010.

Development of CSP could provide energy, economic, environmental, and security benefits. The following factors could make CSP an attractive option for the Southwestern States if policymakers determine that these benefits outweigh the costs.

1. Energy: CSP could provide hundreds of gigawatts of clean power.

2. Economic: Analyses for California, Nevada, and New Mexico estimate that there could be significant benefits in job creation and additions to gross state product accruing from building and operating CSP plants. It is expensive to build a CSP plant and it requires a relatively large number of people to operate and maintain it. Counter balancing this, however, is the absence of a fuel cost. Much of the money that would otherwise be spent on monthly fuel costs, instead is spent on salaries. States and the Federal government have indicated their concern over the rising and volatile price of fossil fuels and their impact on the economy.

3. Environmental: CSP plants do not emit criteria pollutants or greenhouse gases, an issue of growing concern throughout the Federal and State governments. Thus, CSP could be an element of potential future policies related to climate change.

Bruce Sterling has a few comments on the Bloomberg report - as usual his interjections are marked ((())).
Along a dusty two-lane highway in California's Mojave Desert, 550,000 mirrors point skyward to make steam for electricity. Google Inc., (((dot-greens))) Chevron Corp. (((reforming petrocrats))) and Goldman Sachs Group Inc. (((East Coast finance establishment))) are betting this energy will become cheaper than coal.

(((Once people realize that coal plants are drowning major cities, coal plants are gonna get really, really expensive. Like, probably dangerous even to stand around. There must be any number of rich and evil people who own seaside mansions and could hire a global-guerrilla gang to blow up coal plants with truck bombs. You could probably leverage that activity in the markets and make a whole lot of money. Very "Shadow OPEC," except that the general population would cheer you on.)))

The 1,000-acre plant uses concentrated sunlight to generate power for as many as 112,500 homes in Southern California. Rising natural gas prices and emissions limits may make solar thermal the fastest-growing energy source in the next decade, say backers including Vinod Khosla, the founder of computer maker Sun Microsystems Inc. (((Rupert Murdoch's Wall Street Journal is afraid of Vinod Khosla. Proof the guy is onto something useful.)))

Costs for the technology will fall below coal as soon as 2020, the U.S. government estimates. JPMorgan Chase & Co. and Wells Fargo & Co. invested last year in the biggest solar plant built in a generation; Chevron and Google are funding research; and Goldman Sachs is seeking land to lease as demand outpaces wind turbines and geothermal.

``Solar thermal can provide a substantial amount of our power, more than 50 percent,'' says Khosla, who along with the Menlo Park, California, venture capital firm Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers led a $40 million investment in solar power producer Ausra Inc. ``This is an industrial-strength solution.''

2 comments

JN2   says 4:26 AM

Solar/CSP is good. Still need storage and/or alternatives for baseload. Is anyone using molten salt in CSP for anything more than half an hour's storage?

Sure (or at least they are planning to) - read the Ausra stuff for example, they want to have 24 hours of storage (using water, not molten salt):

http://anz.theoildrum.com/node/3791
http://peakenergy.blogspot.com/2008/02/storing-energy-using-graphite.html

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