Blythe shifts from concentrating solar to PV

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

One of the world's largest solar projects may partially shift from concentrating solar thermal to photovoltaic technology.  If it happens, this technological shift demonstrates how different technologies compete for market share even within a given project.

Over the past year, I've written several times about the Blythe solar energy project under development in California.  Proposed by Solar Trust of America, a joint venture between German developers Solar Millenium AG and Ferrostaal AG, the full-scale project could add about 1,000 megawatts of new solar capacity to the regional grid -- about as much capacity as a nuclear plant, although less capable of producing that full value around the clock.  As originally proposed, the Blythe project would rely on mirrors to concentrate the sun's rays to heat water, making steam to run turbine generators.

Solar Millenium has now announced plans to convert the first 500 MW phase of the Blythe project to solar photovoltaics.  With this decision, the Blythe project is now on track to follow nearly 1,850 MW more California solar capacity changing from solar thermal to solar PV in just the last year.  Observers note that this shift is spurred in part by lower photovoltaic costs as a result of greater market penetration, with solar panel elements falling nearly 50% in cost in recent months.

The Blythe developers have not yet selected a PV panel manufacturer, nor have they specified the technology for a second 500 MW phase of the project.

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