A new concentrating solar power (CSP) plant has recently gone into operation near Bakersfield, California. The Kimberlina solar power plant has a 5MW capacity and although the size appears small, the facility is significant for solar developer Ausra because it will act as a demonstration of the technology that will be used for the Carrizo Plains solar power plant, a 117MW development expected to go on-line in 2011.
The new Kimberlina CSP plant generates electricity by reflecting sunlight with large solar thermal mirrors to heat water in tubes to create high pressure steam. This then turns a steam turbine to generate electricity. The process also includes a storage facility that will allow the generation of electricity around the clock rather than relying on the sun to keep shining.
The Kimberlina solar power plant is compact as far as CSP facilities are concerned, consisting of 3 lines of solar thermal mirrors around 100 feet wide and 1,000 feet long. The technology used by Ausra requires less space to create the same amount of electricity as similar power plants. The space required is also less than that needed by a photovoltaic plant. The simplified design of the system has also meant that the cost to produce the electricity has been reduced.
It’s the space issue that still stands as one of the only environmental impacts of CSP plants and is the argument clung to by opponents of solar energy. When you consider the space taken up with mining and exploration to source the fossil fuels that are already being used, it’s a pretty weak argument.
Ausra is still to get financing for the Carrizo Plains project, but they are moving ahead with plans for further CSP projects in the United States and Australia.