NextEra completes 250MW Genesis

NextEra Energy Resources has clipped the ribbon at its 250MW Genesis concentrated solar power (CSP) plant in southern California, taking another high-profile project across the finishing line even as the US CSP sector worries about its future.

The first of two 125MW parabolic-trough systems at Genesis was taken on line last November, and the second brought into service last month, with all of the electricity generated sold by NextEra to Pacific Gas & Electric under a long-term contract.

The plant – formally known as the Genesis Solar Energy Center – entered development in 2007, and broke ground in 2011 on land owned by the US Bureau of Land Management in Riverside County, California.

Equipment installed at the plant came from manufacturers including Spain’s Sener and Germany’s Flabeg, which was last autumn acquired by ascendant Saudi CSP player Acwa Power.

The ribbon-snipping comes amid a wave of completions of major CSP projects in the US, including BrightSource’s 392MW Ivanpah in California – now the world’s largest – and Abengoa’s 280MW Solana in Arizona.

Others, such as Abengoa’s 250MW Mojave Solar and SolarReserve’s 110MW Crescent Dunes, are expected to wrap up commissioning in the next few months.

The US added 410MW of CSP capacity last year, nearly doubling its cumulative base.

Yet even as the sector appears superficially to have more momentum than ever, it is in reality quickly running out of puff, with almost no project origination in the past year, as the focus of the utility-scale solar industry turns to smaller and more easily financed PV installations.

It is cheaper and far faster to build a moderate-sized PV installation – say 20MW – than a similarly-sized CSP facility.

Genesis, like many CSP plants recently completed or underway in the US, was the beneficiary of a large loan guarantee from the Department of Energy.

Many CSP companies – including BrightSource, Abengoa and SolarReserve – have turned their sights to emerging markets elsewhere, with South Africa and the Middle East among the most prominent destinations.

It is not all sour news for the US CSP sector, however.

BrightSource and partner Abengoa have recently started pushing to get their Palen project back on the drawing board, while Enel Green Power is working to install the world's first CSP system at an existing geothermal plant, with US-based SkyFuel having installed the parabolic-trough kit.