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US DOE Offers Abengoa Solar a Conditional Commitment for $1.45B Loan Guarantee for Concentrating Solar Power Plant

President Obama announced in his weekly video address on 3 July that DOE has offered a conditional commitment for a $1.45 billion loan guarantee to Abengoa Solar, Inc. The loan will support the construction and start-up of Solana, a 250 net megawatt (MW) concentrating solar power (CSP) plant in Arizona—the largest CSP plant worldwide to-date.

Solana will include six hours of molten salt thermal energy storage capability, which will allow energy to be dispatched as needed during cloudy periods and after sunset. With this capability, Solana will be able to generate electricity well into the evening to help meet the summer peak demand. The plant will be located 70 miles southwest of Phoenix, near Gila Bend, Arizona.

The plant’s rows of mirrors, thermal storage, generating equipment and service areas will cover nearly three square miles. Two 140-megawatt steam generators will produce 900,000 megawatt hours of electricity each year. Operating at full capacity Solana produces enough electricity to power 70,000 Arizona homes. The plant will be operational in 2011.

DOE’s Title XVII Loan Guarantee Program was created to support the deployment of innovative clean energy technologies pursuant to Section 1703 of Title XVII of the Energy Policy Act of 2005 (Title XVII). Title XVII of the Energy Policy Act of 2005 was amended by the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 to create Section 1705, a new program for the deployment of renewable energy and electric power transmission projects. Solana is eligible for a loan guarantee under both sections of Title XVII.

Recently, DOE conducted an Environmental Assessment study and issued a finding of no significant impact (FONSI) for the project.

Abengoa Solar signed a power purchase agreement with APS, the state’s largest electric utility, to sell the energy produced by Solana for a period of 30 years.

Abengoa Solar has made it a priority to utilize US-made components wherever possible for the Solana plant. More than 75% of the equipment and supplies required to build Solana will be manufactured in the US These include steam generators, heat exchangers, power equipment, glass, steel, concrete and other construction materials.

In late 2009 Abengoa Solar signed a power purchase agreement in California to supply electricity generated by a 250 MW CSP trough plant located in the Mojave Desert, 100 miles northeast of Los Angeles. The company also has several projects under development in the Southwest. Abengoa Solar is currently building 350 MW of solar plants worldwide, and with an additional 142 MW already operating, it is the only company worldwide building and operating both trough and power tower CSP plants. The Solana plant will be Abengoa Solar’s tenth CSP plant worldwide.



This President is doing more to move the US away from foreign oil and fossil fueled electric generation than any before (except perhaps Carter.) This project reinforces the value of energy innovation from domestic resources.

Through the combination of new alternatives such as this and updated nuclear and conversion of coal to NG - US electric production will lower the "carbon footprint" and build energy independence rapidly. Clearly Mr. Obama sees the US leading the world in the transition away from old school energy models. Congratulations.


The capacity factor in Phoenix is around 18%, although you can do a bit better by moving the dish around as that is for a flat surface, so the cost is something like $3,000 kw of actual average output, which is insane.
You could build several nuclear plants and simply throw the unwanted output away and still do a lot better than this.
It is a good job the US Government has all the money in the world, and no budgetary constraints.


The solar resource map; says this plant should collect about 7kwh/m2/day and near Gila Bend it's well placed near a number of high voltage transmission lines.

More to the point - from "conditional commitment" to "operational in 2011" is, at most, 18 months. Try getting a nuke online that fast.


@ ai vin,
it is even faster to simply flush the money down the toilet!
The expense is simply crazy.


Nuclear plants are expensive and take a while to create. If we have distributed storage in homes and buildings, we can make wind and solar output available 24/7. Along with combined cycle plants powered by renewable methane from landfill gasification, geothermal AND more efficient use, we will have plenty of power without radioactive waste for thousands of years.


Expense is relative.

You cannot place a price tag on ideology - if it your ideology, that is.

CARB has demonstrated that you do not need to be constrained by cost OR monetary resources.


If you went all renewable, ignoring the vast cost and the fact that it is entirely impractical and relies on burning vast amounts of fossil fuels to make up for it's never being available when it is needed, you would indeed have radioactive waste for thousands of years.
If nuclear power is deployed, not only would you have cheap energy, but reactors only slightly more advanced could use all the radioactive 'waste' aka 1% used fuel, as a resource worth around $100 trillion at current energy prices, and would transmute the remainder into waste which would decay to around the level of the ores from which it cane in around 300 years.
Still, whatever turns folk on. If anyone seriously thinks that energy at this price is worthwhile, it is much more direct and about as energy efficient to just burn the dollar bills.

Dave R

@Davemart - this is a loan, not a giveaway. The Fed only pays if the funded projects fail to pay back their loans, but since the projects already have signed purchase agreements, the risk is low.


I have a mea culpa to issue - they hit the remarkable capacity factor of 41%, and this is backed up by the info at this link:

I have no idea how they manage to hit such a high capacity factor, considering it is dark 50% of the time!
So for peaking use the economics will be much better.
This is great news, as I have nothing against solar as such, and any contribution to energy needs is very welcome.


This type of solar power plant supplies power 24/7, is highly efficient, very acceptable to most (specially if installed in very sunny desert areas), produces very clean extremely sustainable e-power, can be installed quickly enough etc but is very expensive.

It should be part of future cleaner energy mix (with Nuke and Wind) in Southern USA.


I agree Reel$$. Every now and then Obama does something worthy of praise. Obama and the Dems should increase incentives for development of these kinds of projects exponentially...which would be smart heading into the mid-term elections & with the oil spill still spewing in the gulf.

Most interesting is that this project is 250 MW on 3 square miles of land...clean energy, no radioactive waste, and short construction time lke ai_vin & SJC mentioned. I say s c r e w nuclear energy - there is so much barren land out west that you would think that the west could be filled up with these kinds of plants to fulfill all of America's electric needs...throw in wind, geothermal, upgraded grid, conversion to BEV's and we could be energy independent with terrorist-resistant, middle east regime-free energy within 50 years.


And they're actually being conservative; they're only factoring in 6 hours of energy storage and are using a design that needs to be spread out over 3 square mile because of shading issues.
Check this out;

And no, you don't need nuclear/fossil fueled backup if you combine renewables;

I have no idea how they manage to hit such a high capacity factor, considering it is dark 50% of the time!
Heat storage. Storing heat allows the generators to be sized smaller than the heat-collection system, so capital cost per kWh goes down a bit.
I say s c r e w nuclear energy - there is so much barren land out west that you would think that the west could be filled up with these kinds of plants to fulfill all of America's electric needs
Not really. At $6/peak watt and 40% capacity factor ($15/average watt), the power is way more expensive than nuclear and a long way from markets in the rest of the country. This will be a regional resource.

But what's that $6/peak watt for? Building it?


Nuclear is probably cheaper and more reliable, but I still don't think we will ever see it become a more significant contributor to our energy mix. Reason? The capital cost and time to build (due to permitting, politics, construction, and potential lawsuits) will keep private capital from investing. 3 Mile Island did not kill nuclear, WPPS did.

Unless the Government puts up all the money, we won't see nuclear soon. Will conservatives back that? Maybe since it is nuclear -- dogma again.

Meanwhile, solar and storage technologies will overtake the cost issues before a new nuclear plant in the US can come online. We may not be there yet, but we will in the 10 years it would take to get a nuclear plant up and running.


Historically, a $1.45 billion loan guarantee wouldn't cover nuclear construction bribes or overruns.


When they built the twin reactors of Diablo Canyon in California, they started to build them backwards, it had to be torn down and rebuilt. Those sorts of cost overruns are what keep nuclear costly. That and the underfunded insurance self funding that keeps a major liability on the Treasury books.

I am convinced that distributed storage will come along over time for UPS, peak shaving and load leveling. It might even coincide with the EV market quick charging and battery swaps with light weight lithium air batteries. 50 million homes with 40 kWh of storage adds up to a lot of capacity.


Nuclear actually costs around $2333kw to build, as the South Koreans do with 50 months from start to power on.
The rest of the 'cost' is almost all political rather than technological.
You can make anything expensive if you try hard enough, and adopt absurd regulatory measures.
A good estimate for US costs might be around $3,000kw, to allow for extra material costs, labor costs and some degree of inefficient fooling around.

What disappointed Cyril R, an advocate of solar thermal for peaking needs in the South West, was that this design is very conservative and unlikely to advance the art as it sticks to solar trough technology.

Since the solar power is still at least 5 times more expensive to build than alternatives - gas is even cheaper than nuclear - the only reason to build this is to move the technology on.
So it is difficult to see the rationale for this plant, as costs need to be taken out and the scale increased by perhaps 10 times to reach viability.

At $14.5 bn that would be a fair amount of money, of course!

That is the trouble with Government money. The idea starts out as putting money in to develop technology, then the design criteria gets conservative as they don't want to risk total failure, instead of radical withe the potential to greatly reduce costs.
So you end up spending a great deal of money, which could only really be justified if you were learning something, without really doing so or moving the art on.


Why must it be a choice of renewables or nuclear?

The 'it's not windy everywhere, all the time so renewables are useless' arguement is a little bit short sighted.

We never rely on a single energy source at the moment, so why would we think it would be that way in the future?

From a rough (global) mix of 90% fossil fuel 5% renewable( mostly large hydro + biomass) and 5% nuclear, there is no reason by 2050 it couldn't look more like 40% FF 30% renewable and 30% nuclear.

Are we not mostly on the same side?


Davemart and 3PS state it well so I won't try to repeat or rephrase it.

Without all the facts, it appears to me that storing heat allows them to claim 250 MW AND claim 41% when Davemart's original 18% is more realistic.

As for this being only a loan or loan guarantee - ummm I think our money will go and not return.


At low grid penetration wind can be fine. The trouble is that it is such an immensely variable resource, so once you reach, say, 10%of electricity supply then if the wind blows hard it can hit 100% of the region or country concerned,as happened recently in Spain.
So what do you do with the excess power? Throw it away, in which case you won't reach anything like the theoretical capacity, as you are not using it just when it is strongest?
Transform it into hydrogen or ammonia?
How do you amortize the reformers, when they are only used part of the time?
Switch off base load capacity like geothermal and nuclear, when their economics rely on operating all the time?

Solar is easier, as it is more predictable, although currently very expensive, and in areas like Phoenix at least coincides with peak load.

I am not totally against wind, but don't like wind tower technology, save at a relatively small grid penetration where the resource is exceptional.

If you could up the capacity factor then you might be on to a winner.
This project interests me, which would lift capacities to around 76%


So what do you do with the excess power? Throw it away, in which case you won't reach anything like the theoretical capacity, as you are not using it just when it is strongest?
My goodness, what do you do with nuclear at night, when there is so much more of it than you need?

Same answer as wind: you bank it. Pumped hydro, CAES, that sort of thing. EV batteries are a good option if you had enough foresight to build the fleet and a charging infrastructure.

All the systems which were proposed to deal with the constant-output economics of nuclear and spiky daily/weekly demand work just as well with wind.



Al vin:
'All the systems which were proposed to deal with the constant-output economics of nuclear and spiky daily/weekly demand work just as well with wind.'

No they don't. Constant baseload providing power at a steady rate like nuclear, geothermal and to some extent hydro carry right on producing power day or night, so the most storage you are ever going to need is perhaps 6-8kwh per kw of power for daily variation.
This is also to some extent true for solar, providing that you are somewhere like Phoenix where annual variations aren't going to bother you too much, as most of the power is needed when it is hottest.

Wind is a whole different ball-game, as it can be calm for a week or blowing a gale for days on end.

The storage/back-up capacity needed is of a totally different order.

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