SkyFuel is moving its utility-scale concentrating solar technology toward full commercialization as it installs eight solar collectors adjacent to a natural gas power plant in Medicine Hat, Alberta, Canada.
“It’s an important project for us and it’s pretty exciting,” said spokeswoman Alison Mason.
The project will feed 3.6 megawatts of thermal heat into the gas plant to supplement the plant’s operations with an extra megawatt of electricity.
The conversions for concentrating solar are different from those for solar photovoltaic operations. The Canadian installation will generate 1 megawatt of electricity, but it will do it by producing heat that's used the same way it is in a coal of gas-fueled power plant.
That gives the technology an edge. It integrates perfectly with existing natural gas and coal operations, Mason said. The existing plant burns gas or coal to make heat and turn a steam turbine to produce electricity. The SkyFuel SkyTroughs use the sun to produce heat to turn the same steam turbine.
SkyFuel, a Colorado company, has created a more efficient and cost-effective concentrating solar system. Instead of heavy and delicate mirrors that have to be faceted into place in four different spots, SkyFuel uses a reflective polymer that’s lightweight and can be slipped into place for quick and simple installation, Mason said.
The Medicine Hat project will be constructed during the summer of 2013.
The basic technology is tried and true.
“But we’ve taken that basic parabolic trough and innovated to make it more elegant and less expensive,” Mason said. “Because we’ve taken these bold steps to drive up efficiency and drive down cost, we’re back to square one for project financing.”
While based on existing technology, this is new and banks are reluctant to finance projects using relatively unproven technology.
“The Medicine Hat project is kind of the third step in getting to bankability,” Mason said.
The first step was a demonstration trough in front of the company’s Denver headquarters. The second step was adding a few SkyTroughs to an existing solar project. The company did that in 2009 and perspective clients have three years of performance to look toward as evidence of the technology’s success.
“This is really a commercial customer who came to us,” Mason said of Medicine Hat.
The next step will be a larger hybrid project.
Ultimately, SkyFuel expects to develop projects between 10 and 100 megawatts.
Each SkyTrough is 115 meters long and about 60 meters wide.
“It fits pretty snugly in an American football field,” Mason said.
Even at that large size, the concentrating solar troughs take up significantly less space than solar photovoltaic panels for the same electricity generation capacity, Mason said.