Southwest Concentrates On Solar

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Solar electrical-generation technology is about to go mainstream thanks to a multi-state consortium of energy producers in the American Southwest. Combining solar and electricity into a single concept tends to elicit visions of sun-bathed photovoltaic panels, but in this case, the sun’s energy will power a more conventional steam-turbine plant by focusing the sun’s heat. The technology, sometimes called concentrated solar power (CSP), employs mirrors to redirect ambient solar radiation collected over a widespread area on a heating element of much smaller area. In smaller-scale models, CSP has proven itself more compact and efficient than virtually any other alternative energy source at the time.

A multi-state utility consortium in the southwest United States is in the planning stages of building a large-scale solar power facility in the region.

The Southwest Energy Service Provider’s Consortium for Solar Development is soliciting proposals for a 250-megawatt solar thermal power plant by 2012 in either Nevada or Arizona. All of the power produced will be purchased jointly by the consortium members.

The consortium’s parameters specify the plant must employ concentrating solar power technology, which focuses the sun’s rays using trough-shaped mirrors, dish-shaped mirrors or a series of flat mirrors that in unison track the sun’s movements. The consortium also prefers a facility with thermal energy storage.

Consortium members include the Arizona Electric Power Cooperative, Arizona Public Service, the Southern California Public Power Authority, the Salt River Project (provides power to Phoenix), Tucson Electric Power, and Xcel Energy (serves eight states in the West and Midwest). Arizona Public Service is coordinating bids and proposals.

To learn more about concentrating solar power technology, visit the Web site at www1.EERE.energy.gov/solar/csp.html.