Adding solar resources for meeting peak power demands is a key strategy for PG&E - Interview with Hal LaFlash

Pacific Gas and Electric Company (PG&E) believes solar developers need to continue to work on delivering a higher value product through lower prices and optimisation of the plant and technology to meet Utility portfolio needs.

PG&E would like the solar companies to propose projects with high viability. 

Project developers should submit bids for projects with site control, bids which specify technologies that have been at least minimally deployed, and bids that include prices that the developer can deliver on, shared Hal LaFlash, Director of Emerging Clean Technology Policy, Pacific Gas and Electric Company in an interview with

LaFlash, scheduled to speak during CSPToday's second CSP Summit US scheduled to take place in San Francisco on 30th September – 1st October this year, also spoke about trends/ challenges for CSP and other issues. Excerpts: Recently, it was highlighted that for the first time, there will be imposition of renewable-energy requirements on publicly owned utilities like SMUD and the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power. It requires all of California's electric utilities to generate 20 percent of their energy from clean, renewable sources by 2010. How do you assess the current status of CSP industry in the US and also its popularity among utilities?

Hal LaFlash: We think there's great potential for the CSP industry in the US, especially California and the Southwest.  In particular, the Mojave Desert in California is a prime location for CSP projects. In fact, we're working with BrightSource and Solel to install over 1,000 MW of solar thermal power for our customers in the Mojave Desert. If we consider issues related to wind, geothermal and even biomass to an extent, these renewable resources often are located remotely from transmission and load centers. Transmission is very hard to build especially considering regulatory policies and procedures, it takes 10-20 years to plan and build transmission and there is often major local public opposition. How do you think CSP as an option is placed today considering the fact that its storage also provides the ability to meet summer peak loads with high reliability?

Hal LaFlash: Solar is a very compelling option in California because its availability correlates so closely with our peak power demands. Adding solar resources to help meet peak power demands is a key strategy for PG&E as we grow our diversified renewable energy portfolio. Over the past 12 months, we've added over 2,500 MW of utility-scale solar resources to our mix.

However, transmission is a critical issue since many of these projects are in remote locations.

New transmission takes years to plan, approve, finance and construct, because of the extensive regulatory and legal complications, although generally not 10-20 years. Can you provide an insight into issues related to existing Transmission System, be it for constrained transmission corridors, existing bulk transmission system not designed for renewable resources or even some solar sites that may not be located close to existing transmission lines?

Hal LaFlash: Transmission is the one of the biggest factors affecting CSP success today, right after the financial aspects, including costs and tax credits.  By its nature, utility-scale solar projects are not going to correlate well with transmission resources.

Transmission was built to connect generation to load and neither has historically been found where the best solar resources are located. 

The biggest challenge is getting the resource onto the grid.  The fact that solar only operates 25 percent of the time makes it difficult to get the best utilisation from local transmission facilities. There are opportunities related to integration of wind and solar with other resources to design a more efficient bulk Transmission System. What's your viewpoint regarding the same?

Hal LaFlash: Wind in California frequently has its maximum output at night, which makes it a good complement to peak-hour solar.  The challenge in integrating the two is finding an area with both strong solar and wind resources without subjecting the solar equipment (especially mirrors) to excessive wind loading. 

The other issue is devising a curtailment protocol for those times when wind and solar produce at the same time. Talking of the industry, there are companies, which are focusing on setting up relatively large photovoltaic solar plants and "hybrid" energy center, coupling solar thermal technology with existing combined-cycle generation unit. How do you view such developments from the industry's perspective? 

Hal LaFlash: Creating hybrid energy center when coupled with other renewable energy resources is a great way to create around-the-clock renewable energy generation that rivals the reliability provided by more conventional power resources.

We recently signed a power purchase agreement with Martifer Renewables Electricity for 106 MW of power from a similar set-up. Martifer is combining solar thermal technology with biofuel for the ability to provide extended renewable energy production. The project, which will be located in California's Central Valley near Coalinga, will source the biofuel from a combination of locally-produced agricultural wastes, green wastes and livestock manure. Therefore, this project really exemplifies the potential within California to utilize diverse renewable energy resources to meet our climate goals. How do you view external factors and the regulatory environment specifically for CSP in the US? For example, the US Senate has yet again failed to pass legislation that would extend the Investment Tax Credits beyond their end of year expiration dates. The Senate was unable to reach a bipartisan compromise to extend solar tax credits for the eighth time since June last year.

Hal LaFlash: Extension of the ITC and PTC tax credits for renewable developers is essential to the ongoing success of this industry within the US; developers are depending on this for their project financials. Delays in extending these tax credits may in turn delay completion of the projects and thus our customers' access to clean energy. PG&E is working with members of the solar industry and environmental groups to educate Congress on the importance of a long-term extension of ITC.

If we can address tax incentives, transmission, permitting and other issues, we not only can begin delivering renewable energy sooner to our customers, we can also expand the opportunities for exciting, market-changing projects and advance the industry even further.

CSPToday's second CSP Summit US

Hal LaFlash, Director of Emerging Clean Technology Policy, Pacific Gas and Electric Company is scheduled to speak during CSPToday's second CSP Summit US scheduled to take place in San Francisco on 30th September – 1st October this year.

For more info, click here:



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