With the price of solar panels dropping significantly over the last five years, Germany’s Solar Millennium AG reports it will convert the first 500 megawatts of its 1,000 MW Blythe solar power plant in the Mojave desert from concentrated solar power/solar thermal system to PV.
It will decide what technology to use for the second half of the project at a later date. The company has not named who the PV panel supplier will be for the project.
“Solar Millennium responds quickly and pragmatically to market conditions, and at the moment the California market favors PV technology,” said Solar Millennium CEO Christophe Wolff said in a prepared statement.
This announcement represents the latest in a number of similar conversions this year by solar thermal power plant developers in California. This year at least four projects, producing some 1,850 MW of power generation, have changed most or all of their technology to PV.
PV systems turn sunlight into electricity, while concentrated solar power (CSP) uses heat to create steam that then powers a generator to create electricity.
Since California mandated that the state’s utilities must obtain 20 percent of their power from renewable sources, the price of PV panels have fallen by almost 50 percent. This has been followed by dramatic growth in solar and wind projects.
Solar Millennium officials in the United States said the switch to PV will allow its projects to become operational in smaller phases compared to the larger scale required by CSP technology.
Because of the switch to a more widespread PV technology, the company plans to finance the project in the commercial bank market rather than through loan guarantees from the U.S. Department of Energy. The loan guarantee program was developed to fund new technologies that have had trouble securing financing from traditional lenders.
Solar Millennium said it still sees strong demand for concentrated solar power, also referred to as solar thermal power, in markets such as Africa, the Middle East, India, China and Southern Europe.
Solar Trust of America, a joint venture between Solar Millennium and Ferrostaal AG, is developing the Blythe power plant.
Photo: Solar Millennium AG