Owned by Torresol Energy, a joint venture between Masdar (Abu Dhabi’s holistic and progressive renewable energy company) and Sener (the leading Spanish engineering and construction firm), Gemasolar is the first commercial plant in the world to use molten salt thermal storage in a central tower configuration with a heliostat field. The Gemasolar facility represents a significant breakthrough in the global solar industry and an important new field of cooperation between Spain and the UAE.
His Highness Sheikh Hazza bin Zayed Al Nahyan, the National Security Adviser and Vice Chairman of Abu Dhabi Executive Council, UAE, and His Highness Sheikh Abdullah bin Zayed Al Nahyan, UAE Minister of Foreign Affairs, along with other dignitaries from the UAE and the Spanish Government, also attended the event. The Spanish Minister for Foreign Affairs and Cooperation, Trinidad Jiménez, and the Minister for Industry, Tourism and Trade, Miguel Sebastián, were among the invitees. Mr. Sebastian took part in the ceremony, along with the President of the Andalusian regional government (Junta de Andalucía), José Antonio Griñán, who was the last speaker at the event.
During the ceremony, the President of Torresol Energy, Enrique Sendagorta, the President of Sener, Jorge Sendagorta, and the CEO of Masdar, Dr Sultan Ahmed Al Jaber, highlighted in their speeches the importance of this project. Mr Enrique Sendagorta stated: “We want to become a global company that develops the use of concentrated solar power as a sustainable source of power and therefore contribute to the protection of the environment for the future generations. The start-up of this plant that we inaugurate today is a first decisive step in our way. Gemasolar, owned by Torresol Energy, would not have been possible without the contributions of its partners: Sener and Masdar.”
A decade’s work
In turn, Mr. Jorge Sendagorta added: “In the last decade, Sener has dedicated an enormous intellectual and economical effort to the advance and commercial deployment of the thermoelectric generation from concentrated solar power. An effort that has given its results, as we have materialized three important contributions to the development of this technology, the thermal storage, that improves drastically the plant availability and makes it possible to generate power even when there is no sunshine; the thermoelectric efficiency increase, with receivers that operate at very high temperatures; and the cost reduction with industrialized designs and processes (...) All these innovations are particularly demonstrated in this plant, Gemasolar.”
Dr. Al Jaber said: “Abu Dhabi aims to build bridges with like-minded nations to address the world’s greatest challenges, such as energy security, climate change mitigation, and sustainable human development. Today is an important milestone in this endeavour. Masdar is working with international partners to develop and deploy the most recent scientific and technological innovations, increasing the role of renewable energy as part of a diversified energy. In this way, we will build on the UAE’s existing international role as an energy exporter by also becoming a global provider of future energy knowledge and expertise. The benefits of this plant extend beyond new technology to economic and social development and we look forward to working with other nations on opportunities to benefit from this significant achievement.”
More than 350 guests attended the opening, among them representatives of the central, regional and local governments, leading Spanish political figures, professionals from the financial arena, business associations and research agencies, as well as leading figures of the CSP sector and technicians whose work has contributed to the successful completion of the plant.
Gemasolar is a revolution in the CSP sector, and its commercial operation is expected to lead the way for other central tower plants with molten salt receiver technology, an efficient system that improves the dispatchability of electric power from renewable sources.
Gemasolar is a high temperature solar plant that can reach operating temperatures of over 500°C, much higher than plants with parabolic trough technology, as it does not require oil, but rather directly uses molten salt as a transfer fluid. These higher temperatures in turn generate hotter, pressurized steam in the turbine, which significantly increases the plant's efficiency.
The salt storage capacity enables the plant to supply energy to the grid based on demand, regardless of whether there is solar radiation. Thus, Gemasolar, with its 19.9 MW nameplate capacity, can supply electricity to a population of 27,500 households in the South of Spain. It is expected that Gemasolar will produce a net total of over 110 GWhe per year by operating for a total of 6,450 hours a year at full capacity. This annual production of Gemasolar (110GWhe) is the equivalent of the energy generated in a conventional thermal plant burning 89,000 tons of lignite or the converted energy of 217,000 oil barrels. Therefore, the plant is expected to save more than 30,000 tonnes of carbon dioxide emissions a year.
The plant's most cutting-edge equipment has been developed by Sener. This company has been responsible for leading the EPC and commissioning works of the plant as well as for supplying all the technology for Gemasolar and the basic and detail engineering design. As for Masdar, a strategic developer of renewable energy power projects, the company helped ensure the commercial approach taken to funding and operating this facility.
Torresol Energy, which commercially develops, manages construction, owns and operates CSP plants globally, has been awarded a 25-year regulated tariff by the Spanish government. It is developing two further facilities (Valle 1 and Valle 2) in nearby Cadiz. These 50-MW facilities will employ parabolic trough technology and have an expected net electrical production of 160 GWh/year each - equivalent to the average consumption of 40,000 households. The two plants will together help save 90,000 tonnes of carbon dioxide a year. Both are scheduled to commence start operations by the end of 2011.
These facilities will help Spain contribute to Europe’s 2020 climate and energy targets which aim to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 20%, increase to 20% the use of renewables as a primary source of energy and reduce primary energy consumption by 20% through improved efficiency.
A €171 million financing facility was secured through the open market in 2008 for the construction of Gemasolar, led by Banco Popular, Banesto and the Instituto de Crédito Oficial, with €90 million of this facility provided by the European Investment Bank (EIB). A further €540 million of project finance loans was secured for the construction of Valle 1 and Valle 2.
Raising this amount for first of its kind technology at a commercial scale shows what Masdar and Sener are capable of as strong, credible technology partners. The support of EIB was also very important to the viability of this project. Total investment in the three facilities came to €1 billion.
Torresol Energy’s projects have already won a number of awards including, Euromoney 2010 Project Finance Deal of the Year for Valle 1 and Valle 2 plants and the US CSP Today 2011 award ‘Commercialized Technology Innovation of the Year’ for Gemasolar. This plant has also won the Ruban d’Honneur title in the prestigious European Business Awards.
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