CSP Today speaks to Oren Gadot, CEO of HelioFocus, about booster technology and the company’s increasing involvement in China.
HelioFocus, a solar thermal dish developer, is aiming to promote CSP to grid-parity levels. The company already has a number of booster pIants under construction in Israel and is the first western solar thermal company to develop a commercial project in China.
CSP Today: How does the technology work as a booster to fossil fuels?
HelioFocus works with two types of fossil fuel plants: gas based plants and coal power plants. For combined cycles we identify the plant limitation based on its existing steam turbine efficiency and capacity (especially in winter time). From here we can determine how much energy we can supply the plant with, particularly when it is losing efficiency due to the impact of ambient temperatures in the summer time. We then build a solar field right next to the plant using the same heat exchange system as the power plant. As with an ISCC we are able to provide two steam lines at the same steam conditions (in terms of temperature, pressure and mass flow) as if the plant was generating this energy by itself. These lines go directly into the plant’s steam turbine to generate electricity, making it impossible to differentiate the steam generated by the solar source from the steam generated by the fossil fuel. For combined cycle plants this allows us to boost values by up to 15% and in coal plants there is almost no limitation to the booster size.
CSP Today: How many booster plants is HelioFocus currently working on?
We have two plants in Israel. The first one is on the scale of 12MW, boosting a combined cycle plant owned by the Israel Electric Corporation (the national utility in Israel). It is currently under construction. The second booster plant, on the scale of 10MW, is under the development and permitting process and will be boosting a combined cycle plant that is being developed by Israel Corporation Power – an independent power producer – the plant is expected to be in operation in 2014.
We also have a 10MW project activity in inner Mongolia, China, where we will produce electricity on a standalone configuration that will later on be expanded to a 60MW solar field to boost a 2x300MW coal power plant.Our plant is located on the southern border of the Gobi Desert and is part of the larger Solar City initiative. By replacing the burning of coal we are perfectly adapted to the Chinese government’s legislation which binds utilities to reduce carbon emissions and improve energy efficiency. Furthermore, we are in the process of developing some other projects on a smaller scale which are awaiting approval and financial closing – all related to thermal heat processes for the industry.
CSP Today: In terms of cost-efficiency, do you see HelioFocus’s booster projects achieving grid parity?
This is the essence of HelioFocus. Our product development and projects all aim for grid parity with financial incentives being only a bonus. EPRI and NREL have published that boosting is the most cost effective solar thermal solution and that its LCOE aim is for less than 9.5c/kWh. Of course, this depends on where the project is deployed and local market prices.
CSP Today: What benefits does HelioFocus provide in terms of creating a competitive advantage?
We can provide the highest working temperature which can yield higher thermal efficiency levels. In addition, our technology allows one to extract more kWh from given installed kW capacity versus any other technology. Our dish technology (which can be likened to a very smart dynamic tower) operates on a flexible basis which allows the dish to track the sun in two axes, letting us heat air from ambient temperatures to 1000°C. Dish technology is by far the most efficient with high concentration ratios and the highest kWh produced from installed kW due to the dual axis tracking mechanism. Using dish technology also decreases the land footprint by more than 30%. It is for these competitive advantages that HelioFocus was chosen to be the first Western solar thermal company to be allowed to develop commercial CSP in China, obtaining an equity investment from a local Chinese company, Sanhua. We have already seen growing interest in this technology and its usage from private and government held utilities and expect a greater penetration within the next 12-24 months.
CSP Today: What were HelioFocus’s motives for choosing Mongolia to develop a booster project? How suitable are the conditions for CSP?
The north part of China from Xinxiang province through the Gansu province and further inland to inner Mongolia, as well as the north-east part of Harabin, is considered to be China’s solar valley. This area has good radiation levels as well large areas of land and national programs to install super grids. There are huge plans to develop inner Mongolia (and other regions in China) into the energy capital of east China.
China is specifically suitable for dish technology as it has a high latitude of above 40 degrees resulting in a relatively low sun angle. This suits the dual axis tracking system of HelioFocus’s dish which means the position of the dish can be altered to absorb maximum sunlight.
China has a shortage of energy and therefore the government has developed a strategic five year plan with laws that set clear targets for government and utility officials, as well as the private sector, to combine renewable solutions (specifically solar thermal) in their power generation plans.
There is also the issue of carbon reduction initiatives. China's emissions have risen sharply in recent years due to rapid industrialization, fuelled mainly by coal burning. In terms of national emissions, it has overtaken the US but because its population is so much bigger, its per-capita emissions are currently much lower: China's annual emissions are at 6.8 tonnes of carbon dioxide per person, compared to the US figure of 16.9 tonnes but has tripled since 1990 and expected to match the US per capita by 2017. The government has set aggressive goals in its current five-year plan projecting economic growth of about 40% from 2010 to 2015, but a 17% fall in carbon intensity – decreasing the CO2 output for each unit of GDP growth. A longer-term goal is to boost energy efficiency by 40-45% from 2005 levels by 2020.
The geographical gap which exists between east and west also creates an opportunity for CSP. One third of the land on the east is home to two thirds of the population whereas the west side represents two thirds of the land area but only houses one third of the population. There is hardly any infrastructure in the west including transmission lines and power plants. Therefore the government wants to enhance existing plants in the east, reducing their carbon output whilst develop new renewable sources of energy for the west and north sides where there is an increasing demand.
CSP Today: When is the expected date of operation of your plant in Mongolia?
Commercial deployment discussions are targeting 2013 and full commissioning will be completed one year after.
CSP Today: Do you have any plans to expand to the rest of China?
We see China as a great solar thermal market opportunity and intend to use our first project deployment as a bridging mechanism for additional projects with our current customer and for new projects with new ones. These are exciting and challenging times for HelioFocus as we move towards technology maturity and commercialization.
CSP Today: After having already completed three years in China, HelioFocus has established itself in the local energy industry. What were the major challenge you faced when you first started in China?
When you are approaching any country with a new technology they are naturally suspicious, as you will find in the “western” world. We have been working in the US for four years and it has been really difficult because if you do not have a qualified technology which a bank is able to conduct a project financing study of, you are not even able to request a permit. However, China is open to experimentation and they encourage new technologies. On the topic of renewable energy they were really helpful in land allocation and the permitting process with good taxation incentives from local provincial governments to support project development. I think that on top of all its about people and we spent a lot of time and effort to bond, discuss and create the technical and business relationships on top of friendships and mutual objectives to benefit all.
Inner Mongolia is the door to the rest of China, and there is definite potential for the expansion of CSP development.
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