Interview with Chris Huntington of SkyFuel
"Delays in ITC are keeping several Gigawatts worth of CSP projects from breaking ground"
It was in November last year when the US Department of Energy Solar Energy Technologies Program (DOE/SETP) had awarded SkyFuel, Inc. a $435,000 grant to develop its advanced CSP system known as the Linear Power Tower (LPT), a high-temperature linear Fresnel system, for utility-scale solar thermal power plants.
And in April this year, the company announced the closing of $17 million Series B equity financing.
In the context of electric utilities and their customers throughout the Southwest looking for clean, carbon-free, affordable, on-demand solar power, SkyFuel is convinced that the LPT with molten salt storage is the kind of system that could meet this need.
With the DOE's support, SkyFuel plans to deploy the LPT by 2011.
The DOE/SETP grant was also crucial for SkyFuel as it complements the commercialisation of the SkyTrough, a low cost parabolic trough concentrator. The SkyTrough utilises a lightweight space frame and a glass-free reflective surface that significantly reduce the cost of the solar thermal system. Significantly, the funding received in April is being used to commercially deploy SkyTrough and pursue global solar markets and advance the research and development of the LPT.
Reflecting on the grant and funding, Chris Huntington, vice-president - business development, SkyFuel told CSPToday.com that the company's current focus is on the North American market.
Specifically on LPT, he said SkyFuel is well advanced in developing the components and sub-systems that will make up the LPT.
SkyFuel is also working on projects in other suitable markets for CSP, according to Huntington, who is scheduled to speak during CSPToday's second CSP Summit US to be held in San Francisco on 30th September – 1st October this year.SkyFuel is working with independent power producers on utility scale solar thermal power plants in the US and abroad based on the SkyTrough parabolic trough architecture.
Considering its operations till date, the company acknowledges that there are several challenges when it comes to designing and deployment of CSP systems.
"The major challenges to deploying utility scale parabolic trough solar thermal power plants are: cost, access to transmission and steam turbine delivery time if building a stand alone plant. Beyond those, the challenges tend to be site-specific and/or specific to the development partner," said Huntington.
From business environment's perspective, Huntington shared that other than New Mexico that had put out an RFP specifically calling on respondents to bid with Parabolic trough Systems, and the so-called "Consortium CSP RFP", the Western States have not specified any particular type of solar technology.
"Based on the projects, we are drawing up and the increasing demand from developers, SkyFuel sees tremendous opportunity in the US for its SkyTrough advanced, glass-free parabolic trough system using ReflecTech Mirror film and in a few year's for the Linear Power Tower high temperature system with molten salt HTF and thermal storage," said Huntington.
Other than environmentalists in the US pushing for renewable power to be generated closer to heavily populated areas, rather than it being brought in from distant sites, another issue, which has been in news - and quite a significant one for the solar technology development in the US -, is related to the incentives.
The incentives, which provide a federal tax credit for renewable-energy investment, are set to expire at the end of 2008. And it is being said that the impact is already being felt.
For his part, Huntington said, "SkyFuel agrees with and actively supports the Solar Energies Industry Association and its position that the 30 percent Investment Tax Credit (ITC) must be extended soon and for many years. The delays by Congress thus far to do so are indeed keeping several Gigawatts worth of CSP projects from breaking ground right now."
Commenting on the approach of various states for identifying and evaluating renewable energy zones within their respective region and designing transmission, Huntington said there is active and detailed discussion at the Federal level regarding the possible creation of "solar Preserves" on Bureau of Land Management Land. And authorities within the State of Colorado are also engaging in such discussions for certain areas in that state.
Recently, it was stated that Nevada is the Saudi Arabia of solar energy and even the authorities have lifted the moratorium and have started accepting applications to build solar power plants on public lands.
On the readiness of the region for this form of renewable energy, Huntington that such comparison is thrown around a lot, usually pertaining to the entire Southwest region which comprises Southern California ( the Mojave Desert has the best solar resource in the United States), Arizona, New Mexico, Nevada, South Central Colorado, Southern Utah and parts of Western Texas.
The various authorities and business development interests in the region are increasingly knowledgeable about CSP and thousands of Mega Watts worth of projects have been proposed, he said.
But unlike some areas in other countries, there is no central controlling governmental authority in the region, nor in any of the respective states that can dictate the pace at which such development might proceed, added Huntington.
CSP Today's 2nd CSP Summit US
Chris Huntington, vice-president - business development, SkyFuel 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: http://www.csptoday.com/us/programme.shtml
t: +44 (0) 20 7375 7153
US toll free: 1800 814 3459 ex: 208