Google’s green energy czar, Bill Weihl, recently announced at the Global Climate and Alternative Energy Summit in San Francisco (US) that his company was working on new solar mirrors that could improve on current technology, making utility-scale solar power generation more cost-effective. “We’ve been looking at very unusual materials for the mirrors both for the reflective surface as well as the substrate that the mirror is mounted on,” Weihl told Reuters. “We’re not there yet. I’m very hopeful we will have mirrors that are cheaper than what companies in the space are using.”
5 dollar cents a kWh?
“In two to three years we could be demonstrating a significant scale pilot system that would generate a lot of power and would be clearly mass manufacturable at a cost that would give us a levelized cost of electricity that would be in the 5 cents or sub 5 cents a kilowatt hour range,” Weihl added. That would be competitive with the price of coal-powered electrical generation, one of the key goals of Google’s renewable research.
Google’s data centres require tens of MW of electricity each to operate and the ability to shift to cheaper renewable energy could dramatically slash the environmental impact of these facilities while reducing its overheads. Indeed, Weihl claims that solar thermal power could be helping Google to reduce its energy costs by 60% within half a year or so.
BrightSource Energy at the cutting edge
In June 2008, BrightSource Energy opened the Solar Energy Development Centre (SEDC), a fully operational solar demonstration facility used to test equipment, materials and procedures as well as construction and operating methods. The SEDC is located in the Rotem Industrial Park in Israel’s Negev Desert, about 100 km southeast of Jerusalem.
It is now developing its first solar power complex in California’s Mojave Desert. The Ivanpah Solar Power Complex will be located in Ivanpah, approximately 80 km northwest of Needles, California, and about five miles from the California-Nevada border. Employing cutting edge solutions such as dry cooling and direct steam generation, the complex will generate enough electricity to power 140,000 homes and reduce carbon dioxide emissions by more than 450,000 tons per year. When completed, the Ivanpah Solar Power Complex will nearly double the amount of commercial solar thermal electricity produced in the US today.
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