CSP Today talks to Rob Rogan, eSolar’s senior vice president, Americas, about eSolar’s master technology licencing deal with Penglai Electric, biomass hybridization and first mover advantage in the Far East.
By Rikki Stancich in Paris
Earlier this month, eSolar signed a master licensing deal with private Chinese electrical power equipment manufacturer, Penglai Electric, for the development of at least 2 gigawatts (GW) of solar thermal power plants in China over the next 10 years.
CSP Today’s Rikki Stancich talks to eSolar’s senior vice president, Americas, Rob Rogan about the deal, the technology and the globalisation of CSP.
CSP Today: Penglai Electric intends to develop hybrid CSP-biomass plants. Is eSolar’s technology more adaptable to hybrid plants than other CSP technologies?
Rob Rogan: In some ways it is. Our technology generates natural steam temperatures of up to 825 degrees Fahrenheit at some 900 pounds of pressure per square inch.
This matches nicely with conventional turbines and steam turbines use in some biomass configurations, so they are easy to plug in with little modification required.
eSolar’s technology is also very modular – you can easily tailor the amount of steam produced, which makes it a very flexible design.
Penglai opted for eSolar because of this and because the technology has been proven to work at our Lancaster demonstration facility in California.
CSP Today: Is CSP-biomass hybridization a business model that eSolar will be promoting elsewhere?
Rob Rogan: We would look to arrangements where a stable biomass supply is available and where developers have experience in biomass energy.
In Penglai’s case, they have experience in working with biomass and they have access to an abundant biomass resource in the form of sand willow (Salix cheilophila).
In order to maintain sand willows’ property as an effective carbon sink, the grass must be regularly harvested, which makes it an ideal resource.
CSP Today: How viable is biomass hybridisation for other markets, given the sustainability issues surrounding availability / access to biomass?
Rob Rogan: It is a question of the availability of biomass in arid regions. In the southwest of the US there are not a lot of biomass facilities.
In China, on the other hand, it makes a good deal of financial sense to have plants hybridized.
CSP Today: What was it about eSolar’s technology offering in particular that clinched the licensing deal with Penglai Electric?
Rob Rogan: eSolar was chosen because from the technology perspective it was a good match with regards to the biomass hybridization.
Also because the technology is viable - it has been demonstrated to work.
And then of course, there is our cost performance and the availability of our technology.
CSP Today: How are these kind of technology licensing deals likely to impact the price of CSP (tower) technology over the medium term?
Rob Rogan: By taking the licensing deal approach, we are ensuring that the largest possible number of partners is building the largest number of MW of solar energy.
We are pushing for the largest possible number of companies to license the technology and we will provide the support for those projects.
Will the deal impact the price of CSP technology over the medium-term? The more we build, the more efficient we get.
We have designed the technology to be easy to manufacture and easy to achieve economies of scale. The greater the number of customers simply means that we are adding more gas to the fire.
CSP Today: Taking into account the rapid deployment that the Chinese government is aiming for, to what extent will this licensing deal bring tower technology in line with parabolic troughs as a commercially proven technology?
Rob Rogan: The deal with Penglai is for 2GW, which will be rolled out over the next ten years. We will be breaking ground with 92MW in 2010 for the Penglai project.
We also have projects breaking ground in US and India in the same time-frame, so in 2010, hundreds of megawatts will be coming online.
We will have multiple operational projects on multiple continents. In this sense, I think you could safely say that the technology is proven –and not forgetting that the Sierra Sun Tower demonstration plant is already selling energy to Southern California Edison. So yes, the technology is proven.
CSP Today: In terms of market share, what kind of a ‘leg-up’ does this deal give eSolar over the competition?
Rob Rogan: It’s a huge leg-up. China has an extremely ambitious renewable energy plan, so getting involved in this market on the ground level confers significant advantage.
We now have projects moving forward in the US, India and China. To have projects established in each of these markets gives us an enormous market advantage.
In total we now have some 3,500 MW of announced commercial partnerships, globally, with more to come.
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