Kinks worked out, FPL’s solar thermal plant plans to go full throttle

Kinks worked out, FPL’s solar thermal plant plans to go full throttleFlorida Power & Light (FPL) brought online what it claimed was the first hybrid solar power plant in the world, in the Martin Next Generation Solar Energy Center. The facility combines a 75-megawatt solar thermal plant with a natural gas-fired power plant.

That was a year ago.

Since then the project has experienced some major issues, including broken pipes and spills, but the now the utility says they have the system dialed in.

The facility’s technology is based on the SEGS system in California owned by FPL sibling Next Era Energy Resources, the first generation of which began operations in the 1980s.

But the Martin system is the first for the Southeast.

“Throughout the Martin solar facility's first year, there have been unique challenges as there are with any new power plant, and there have also been some pleasant surprises,” said Buck Martinez, senior director of development for FPL.

One of the biggest challenges was a broken valve caused by water mixing with the heat transfer fluid turning into steam. That resulted in a 46,000 gallon spill, according to the Orlando Sentinel. It took months to repair and clean up.

It’s again fully operational.

“All four sections of the solar facility are generating power, and if all of our maintenance and design optimizations perform as expected, we should achieve our projected performance goals by the end of 2012,” Martinez said.

The facility is already peaking at 68 MW near its 75 MW capacity.

“Which is very strong for early March.” Martinez said. “Just last week, it peaked at 79 MW—technically above its potential.”

FPL also has been pleased with the plant’s thermal storage capacity.

“The heat-transfer fluid stores energy surprising well, and there have been days when the plant’s been generating power as late as 10 p.m. during summer months—long after the sun’s gone down,” Martinez said. “That development is very exciting for the future of solar technology.”

The storage capacity also helps eliminate intermittency issues related to cloud coverage.

FPL now has two PV sites in addition to the solar thermal installation, according to Martinez, and plans to add in more solar.

“With the appropriate regulatory compact, we are ready to begin construction at multiple sites around Florida and continue to meet the energy needs of Floridians with reliable and responsible generation,” he said.

He didn’t clarify whether the company would pursue other solar thermal projects in the region.