How is the project being financed?

At this early stage we can only presume that we would undertake a traditional project finance approach involving a combination of debt and equity.

How much will the project cost? Will it have any subsidies?

The fully dispatchable energy generation + energy storage will:

  • Compete on pricing against the market, without the need for any special subsidies
  • Be less expensive than solar PV + batteries
  • Be less expensive than solar PV + natural gas peaker plants, which are required to back up intermittent generation during cloudy days and peak usage hours in the evening

The photovoltaic industry and the battery industry have gotten everyone excited about cost reductions in the future. But few people have realized how much less expensive solar thermal will become as we build projects 2, 3, 5, 20, and so on.

SolarReserve is already developing our next generation technology, based on technological advances, increased efficiencies, and lessons learned at Crescent Dunes. All these factors – including more cost effective financing – are resulting in substantial cost reductions and efficiency improvements – lowering the cost of future projects.

We expect to beat a new combined cycle natural gas plant on total energy cost. We will also beat the cost of the same output from PV with batteries. Take into consideration the additional value of zero carbon emissions or the unnecessary cost of developing a natural gas generator to back up traditional intermittent solar PV and the project is guaranteed to be a real winner for all stakeholders.

When will you break ground on the project?

We have a lot to do before breaking ground. Permitting and obtaining a power purchase agreement (PPA) are both significant steps. We also need to ensure that the project will have access to transmission, which is key to site selection. So the first phase of construction probably won’t start for another 2-3 years, but when it does, it should create about 3,000 jobs lasting about seven years.

With more towers and more mirrors, how can you ensure minimal impact to wildlife?

As a renewable energy company, SolarReserve is committed to minimizing the impact of our project footprint. This starts from a rigorous site selection process including a close examination of the potential critical flaws of a site. We certainly subscribe to the BLM’s “smart from the start” approach.  Such considerations will include plant and animal habitat, water consumption, streambed alteration and floodplains, air and water pollution, traffic, air travel, military operations, and last but not least socioeconomics. It will be lower impact in total to build ten towers in the same place than ten towers in ten different locations.

In addition, monitoring by independent environmental biologists over the last two years has proven the Crescent Dunes facility as one of the safest forms of electricity generation, especially for bird safety, with an average of about five bird fatalities reported per month at the facility – dramatically less than other forms of electricity generation, including natural gas, nuclear, coal and wind energy.  The number of bird mortalities has been confirmed by several different teams of on-site independent environmental consultants, who report their findings directly to the U.S. Bureau of Land Management, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, and Nevada Department of Wildlife. The fatalities were largely due to bird collisions with buildings, transmission lines and equipment related to the project.

Our goal is to protect wildlife and move forward with this zero emissions American technology that is able to deliver electricity day and night. It’s a viable alternative to fossil-based electricity generation, with the potential to meaningfully reduce reliance on fossil fuels and the associated carbon pollution, so that humans and wildlife can thrive together on our planet.

How much energy storage does the project have, and how does that compare to other storage projects in the U.S.?

Each tower will have approximately 10 hours of full-load energy storage; the total amount of energy storage capability for the entire project will therefore be 20,000 megawatt-hours (MWh). To put this in perspective:

  • The largest battery project ever announced in the U.S. is the AES project at Huntington Beach, which will be 400 MWh, and is targeted to be completed in 2021.
  • The recent announcement from Tesla in Southern California was for an 80 MWh battery project for SCE.
  • The largest battery currently installed in California is 32 MWh (SCE’s Tehachapi project).

Unlike batteries, molten salt storage technology has no annual degradation for the life of the project (30-40 year project life or longer).

Is rooftop solar a better alternative?

We support rooftop solar initiatives, however they are not affordable for the majority of electricity customers – especially combined with battery storage which is needed for cloudy days and power in the evening hours.

The Sandstone Energy project is 2,000 megawatts of power and will deliver 7,000,000 megawatt-hours annually. The total amount of energy storage capability for the entire project will be 20,000 megawatt-hours. To achieve a comparable amount of power delivery plus energy storage using rooftop solar with batteries, it would take:

  • 8,000,000 solar photovoltaic (PV) panels (250w).
  • 3,125,000 Tesla Powerwalls, at a cost of $9,375,000,000 dollars (not including installation, which could add another $1,000 per system or over $3 billion total). And a Powerwall doesn’t last 30+ years, as our molten salt does. The Tesla Powerwall limited warranty covers 10 years, and does not cover “normal degradation of your Powerwall’s energy capacity over time.” This means that the amount of energy storage will significantly decrease over the 10 year period.
  • Assuming 6 kW rooftop systems (the current average), $3.50/watt system costs, and a 17% capacity factor (reasonable), the comparable amount of rooftop systems (without storage) would be 783,000 rooftops, and a cost of almost $16.5 billion (without storage).
  • With storage, a comparable amount of power delivery plus energy storage using rooftop solar with batteries would be almost $30 billion.

With this said, comparing a solar thermal plant with integrated energy storage to rooftop solar or a solar PV farm is like comparing apples to oranges. Our facilities are more comparable to traditional power plants – in the way they operate as well as the way they are able to reliably dispatch power 24/7.  Batteries are not suited for full discharge and charging on a daily basis and for bulk energy shifting.

What is the California “Duck Curve”?

When the sun starts to set in California and generation from solar panels drops off, thousands of megawatts of natural-gas fired power plants quickly fire up to keep the electricity on in the state as consumers return home from work and turn on appliances and flip on lights. This phenomenon is known as the “duck curve” because the demand slope resembles the profile of a water fowl. 

Regarding the ability of SolarReserve’s Sandstone Energy project to address the peak times of California’s “Duck Curve” the below graph tells the story. It’s an actual graph of a typical day of operation of our Crescent Dunes facility (unretouched). The yellow is sunshine, the red is the sun’s thermal energy that we collect (in molten salt) and the green is power delivery. You can see that the power is a steady line, which extends past sunset. Even on a very cloudy day, where sunlight is intermittent, our power delivery curve looks exactly the same – steady power delivered to the grid during peak demand periods which extend into the evening hours. We can shift that steady power delivery around, as the utility needs it to deliver power when it’s needed most. No need to fire up gas plants.