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Archive for the ‘SolarReserve’ Category

photo: Todd Woody

I made my debut on Reuters on Thursday with a scoop on one of China’s biggest solar companies forming a joint venture with California’s SolarReserve to build photovoltaic power plants in the United States:

A subsidiary of China’s GCL-Poly Energy Holdings Ltd has formed a joint venture with SolarReserve, a California developer, to build photovoltaic power plants in the United States.

The deal, to be announced Thursday, marks a major bid by a Chinese solar company to enter a market dominated by European and U.S. firms. Last week, GCL obtained a commitment from Wells Fargo to provide $100 million in financing for its solar projects.

GCL is China’s largest manufacturer of polysilicon and wafers used to make photovoltaic modules. The company also builds conventional power plants in China along with wind and solar projects. The state-owned China Investment Corporation owns a 20 percent stake in GCL.

“We value the U.S. market as one of the most important markets for us and we wanted to get into the development side of the game,” Yumin Liu, president of GCL Solar Energy Inc, the company’s San Francisco-based subsidiary, said in an interview.

“To support the continued growth of the company we have to have a portfolio for years to come. The only way to do it economically is to secure a pipeline of projects.”

GCL will acquire a 50 percent share of SolarReserve’s 1,100-megawatt project pipeline in photovoltaics for an undisclosed price.

SolarReserve, based in Santa Monica, California, has focused on developing large solar thermal power plants using molten-salt technology licensed from United Technologies Corporation. This type of plant is not part of the joint venture.

Kevin Smith, SolarReserve’s chief executive, said the startup last year began to acquire control of 40 sites throughout the desert Southwest that would be suitable for smaller-scale photovoltaic-power projects. The company hired Macquarie Capital to search for a partner to share development costs.

“The U.S. market is a hugely competitive market on pricing, given the current policy structures and limited federal government support for renewable energy,” Smith said. “Partnering with a low-cost Chinese company gives us insight on how to maintain competitiveness in these markets and we will learn a trick or two.”

He said that SolarReserve will handle land acquisition, permitting and negotiating power purchase agreements with utilities while GCL will oversee procurement of solar panels and construction. Work on 400 megawatts’ worth of projects should begin in 2011.

You can read the rest of the story here.

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photo: Aurora Biofuels

As I write in The New York Times on Friday, it’s spring cleaning at three renewable energy firms as top executives depart SolarReserve, Clipper Windpower and Aurora Biofuels:

The past week has brought a spate of executive departures at renewable energy startups, with the president of SolarReserve, a power plant builder, and the chief executives of Clipper Windpower and Aurora Biofuels stepping down.

Terry Murphy, a rocket scientist who co-founded SolarReserve after a career at United Technologies’ Rocketdyne division, has started a new venture called Advanced Rocket Technologies in Commercial Applications, or ARTiCA. The firm will evaluate green technologies for entrepreneurs and investors, according to Mr. Murphy.

Mr. Murphy and SolarReserve both said the departure was voluntary. “With the company solidly executing on its business strategies, Mr. Murphy has transitioned to an external role in providing developmental expertise to other early stage clean energy companies,” wrote Debra Hotaling, a spokeswoman for SolarReserve, in an e-mail message.

When Mr. Murphy left Rocketdyne to start SolarReserve, the startup licensed Rocketdyne’s molten salt technology so that its solar power plants could store solar energy for use after the sun sets or on cloudy days.

“SolarReserve, in my opinion, is up and running on all four cylinders,” said Mr. Murphy.

“What I did at Rocketdyne and what I did at SolarReserve and what I’m looking at doing in the future is to sift through technologies to find those that can be commercialized.”

Mr. Murphy’s new firm will focus on technologies involving renewable energy, desalinization and sustainability, he said.

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photo: SolarReserve

In The New York Times on Saturday, I write about utilities NV Energy and PG&E signing power purchase agreements to buy electricity from SolarReserve’s solar farms, which store the sun’s energy in molten salt to generate power at night:

Solar farms that would serve two Western utilities are planning to use technology that will generate electricity after the sun goes down, a move that could be a potential game-changer for the industry.

The two farms being planned by SolarReserve of Santa Monica, Calif., would store the sun’s energy in molten salt, releasing the heat at night when it could be used to drive a turbine and generate electricity. Two utilities, NV Energy in Nevada and Pacific Gas and Electric, Northern California’s biggest utility, would buy the power.

The sun’s intermittent nature has made large-scale solar farms most useful as so-called peaker plants that supply electricity when demand spikes, typically in the late afternoon on hot days. But the ability of SolarReserve to store the sun’s energy for use at night would be a step forward in technology.

“The energy storage characteristics were a key factor in our selection of the Tonopah solar energy project,” NV Energy’s chief executive, Michael Yackira, said in a statement. The utility will be able to draw electricity from the solar farm more or less on demand, which makes it easier to balance the load on the power grid.

NV Energy would buy power from the 100-megawatt Crescent Dunes Solar Energy Project being planned on federal land near Tonopah, Nev., about 215 miles northwest of Las Vegas.

“We’re expecting to put in 12 hours of storage, which allows us to move power within the day to meet peak requirements as well as to operate at full load,” SolarReserve’s chief executive, Kevin Smith, said of the Tonopah plant.

You can read the rest of the story here.

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Photo: Ausra

Ausra has become the latest credit-crunched solar startup to seek a buyer/investor to bankroll its expansion. As I write Tuesday in The New York Times:

Disrupting trillion-dollar energy markets is expensive, as solar companies like OptiSolar and Solel have found. Both sold out to larger, deep-pocketed companies this year.

Now Ausra, a high-profile solar company bankrolled by some of Silicon Valley’s top venture capital firms, has become the latest renewable energy startup to put itself on the block.

Ausra, which makes solar thermal equipment to generate electricity, is in negotiations with three large international companies interested in taking a majority ownership stake in the venture, according to a person familiar with the situation.

The negotiations were first reported by Reuters.

All three potential acquirers are companies that make equipment for conventional power generation. Ausra declined to comment. Founded in Australia to build solar power plants, Ausra relocated to Silicon Valley and secured funding in 2007 from marquee venture capital firms Khosla Ventures, Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers and other investors.

Ausra soon filed plans to build one of the first new solar farms in California in 20 years. The company also built a factory in Las Vegas to manufacture long mirror arrays that focus the sun on water-filled tubes to create steam to drive electricity-generating turbines.

But as the credit crunch made building billion-dollar solar power plants an increasingly dicey proposition, Ausra switched gears earlier this year to focus on supplying solar thermal equipment to other developers.

You can read the rest of the story here.

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artist_picture_of_project

Image: SolarReserve

Ok, I’m exaggerating a bit in the headline above but we’re getting closer to solar farms that will provide baseload power, operating at night and under cloudy conditions. As I write on Tuesday in The New York Times:

The holy grail of renewable energy is a solar power plant that continues producing electricity after the sun goes down.

A Santa Monica, Calif., company called SolarReserve has taken a step toward making that a reality, filing an application with California regulators to build a 150-megawatt solar farm that will store seven hours’ worth of the sun’s energy in the form of molten salt.

Heat from the salt can be released when it’s cloudy or at night to create steam that drives an electricity-generating turbine.

The Rice Solar Energy Project, to be built in the Sonoran Desert east of Palm Springs, will “generate steady and uninterrupted power during hours of peak electricity demand,” according to SolarReserve’s license application.

So-called dispatchable solar farms would in theory allow utilities to avoid spending billions of dollars building fossil fuel power plants that are fired up only a few times a year when electricity demand spikes, like on a hot day.

SolarReserve is literally run by rocket scientists, many of whom formerly worked at Rocketdyne, a subsidiary of the technology giant United Technologies. Rocketdyne developed the solar salt technology, which was proven viable at the 10-megawatt Solar Two demonstration project near Barstow, Calif., in the 1990s.

You can read the rest of the story here.

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