Loan to Kick-start U.S. Solar Thermal Industry

By Kevin Bullis in Technology Review, March 2 2010

A massive $1.37 billion loan guarantee that the U.S. Department of Energy granted to Brightsource Energy last week could help clear the way for over 15 gigawatts of solar projects in California, and could be the key to launching a new solar thermal industry in the United States.

Brightsource's 400 megawatt Ivanpah solar thermal power plant, first submitted to the California Energy Commission for approval in 2007, is one of a new batch of solar thermal projects that have been proposed as a result of new interest in renewable energy. Ambitious mandates for renewable energy, such as the requirement that 33 percent of electricity in California be renewable by 2020, have helped create demand. But key hurdles have remained, including the permitting process, the need for new transmission lines to carry power from desert locations, and, most importantly, the need to acquire financing for the technology, which is expensive to build, says Charles Ricker, senior vice president for business development at Brightsource. 

The DOE's loan guarantee, and the federal loan it will unlock for the company, will cover most of the approximately $2 billion needed to complete the project. The loan guarantee is the result of an energy bill passed in 2005, although the issuing process has proved very slow, with the first ones granted only last year. Brightsource is the first solar thermal company to get one.

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