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Water Limits Changed Design of Biggest Solar Project

California regulators approve 1-gigawatt solar-thermal project, but its dry cooling means lower efficiency and higher cost

3 min read

21 September 2010—It’s easy to see why energy companies are pursuing utility-scale solar projects in California. The state is blessed with deserts soaked in sunshine, and it faces a legal mandate to acquire more renewable electricity. But the state is also cursed with a limited water supply. So California regulators are pushing water conservation practices on new plant designs, some of which are costly and can hinder efficiency.

Last week, the California Energy Commission approved the construction and operation of four solar-thermal power plants in the town of Blythe, with a planned overall capacity of around 1 gigawatt—the largest such installation yet. But to get the green light, the project developers had to redesign the plants to use a cooling technology that reduces their efficiency by 5 to 10 percent and increases the cost of electricity by 5 to 7 percent, according to Solar Millennium, which is jointly developing the project with Ferrostaal and Chevron.

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Greg Mably


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