Solar, hybrid power winning new ground

Aug. 10, 2010 at 5:50 PM
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BOSTON, Aug. 10 (UPI) -- Solar power and hybrid energy won new ground with the announcements Tuesday of a major new alliance and contracts to manage global expansion.

Arizona Public Service Co. said it will open a 15-megawatt photovoltaic power plant at the Luke Air Force Base in Glendale, Ariz.. It will be the largest solar installation on U.S. government property yet announced.

The APS deal capped a period of increase in solar power development in the United States and abroad and coincided with another landmark event for the energy industry, the birth of Hybrid Energy Consortium.

Four major industry players have joined forces to form the consortium, which will focus on the design of next generation utility-scale commercial integrated solar combined cycle power plants.

The founding members -- QGEN of the United States, FLABEG Group and Schlaich Bergermann und Partner Sohne GmbH, both of Germany and JGC Corporation of Japan -- are all known as innovators in their respective specialties in the energy industry.

Solar power development has caught on even in the hydrocarbon-rich developing countries awash in cash from their oil and gas exports. Several members of the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries are investing heavily in solar power development.

Dublin's Research and Markets cited U.S. leads in the global solar market development in 2009 in a study released this week. The top 10 of the 150 solar power companies accounted for 80 percent of the U.S. solar utility market in 2009. Analysts said the study indicated industry interest in solar power as a major new revenue stream had intensified over the past year.

The U.S. solar power generation industry includes about 150 companies that provide a small but growing amount of the U.S. electricity. Major companies include independent producers NextEra Energy, Sempra Generation, and NRG Energy, as well as utilities such as Florida Power; and Light, a subsidiary of NextEra Energy.

The industry remains highly concentrated, said Research and Markets. As the top 10 utilities involved in solar power generation accounted for 80 percent of the solar utility market last year, Solar Electric Power Association figures indicated that, overall, solar energy accounts for less than 1 percent of the energy consumed in the United States. This is set to change, analysts said.

"As with other power sources, demand for solar power is driven by residential, commercial and industrial electricity demand, which increases with population and economic growth," said Research and Markets.

"Additionally, growing concern over environmental and geopolitical issues surrounding fossil fuels has boosted interest in renewable energy sources such as solar."

Hybrid Energy Consortium sources indicated the future pointed to utility-scale commercial integrated solar combined cycle power plants. HEC's mission will be to accelerate the design and development of ISCC plants, said a consortium news release.

It said HEC's ISCC plants will integrate state-of-the-art concentrating solar power technologies into conventional gas- and coal-fired plant designs to generate electricity and desalinate water.

As a next step, HEC will test new solar field designs and components in ISCC configurations in its own technology demonstration plants in North Africa and North America. Upon the successful development of its commercial designs, HEC plans to provide its design, procurement and construction services to project developers around the world.

ISCC plants will accelerate the integration of solar energy into the electricity generation mix, said the consortium. In ISCC plants solar energy is used as a complement to fossil fuels leveraging the gas- or coal-fired plant infrastructure. That approach eliminates the need for the government subsidies being granted to stand-alone concentrating solar or photovoltaic power plants, HEC said.

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