Crescent Dunes enters key phase

Developer SolarReserve says construction of its 110MW Crescent Dunes concentrated solar power project in Nevada has entered the commissioning stage, with full commercial operation on target for later this year.

Crescent Dunes is the first utility-scale solar facility in the world to feature advanced molten salt power tower energy storage capabilities, according to SolarReserve.

As a result of the advanced energy storage technology, Crescent Dunes will generate more than 500,000 MWh per year, enough to power 75,000 homes during peak electricity periods.

This projected output is more than twice that of other technologies per MW of capacity, such as PV or direct steam solar thermal, the developer claims. If all goes as planned, there will be no need for any back-up fossil fuels such as natural gas, which other technologies require to keep the system going during periods of low or no solar resource.

NV Energy, the state’s dominant utility, will purchase all of the electricity generated under a 25-year power purchase agreement. 

Commissioning activities underway at Crescent Dunes include energization of the utility interconnection system and other electrical systems, as well as the first stages of testing and calibration of the heliostat field. It comprises more than 10,000 "billboard-sized" mirrors that track the sun..

Other activities include startup of the demineralized water, air, steam, cooling and many other systems which are commonly found in traditional power plants.

Systems unique to Crescent Dunes include a heliostat field control system that will control and concentrate the sun's energy, and also the molten salt system that will harness, store and transform the sun's energy into superheated steam.

The developer says the facility also includes a dry cooled condenser in a hybrid configuration to minimize water use to levels well below that of conventional power plants.

"Start of commissioning of the Crescent Dunes solar power plant marks a critical milestone for the project as well as the solar industry. We are now able to build utility-scale power plants, fueled only by the sun, which operate on-demand, day and night, just like traditional fossil fuel or nuclear power plants," says SolarReserve's chief executive Kevin Smith.

Aside from SolarReserve, other investors in the project are ACS Cobra, an engineering and builder of power plants and thermal solar facilities, and the equity capital practice of Banco Santander.

The project obtained a $737m loan guarantee from the US Energy Department in June 2011.