Welcome to OneSun – the newsletter of BrightSource Energy – published periodically to keep you abreast of the latest developments in solar energy generally and concentrating solar power (CSP) specifically.
President Bill Clinton Makes a Special Visit to Ivanpah
In August, Ivanpah received a very special visitor – President Bill Clinton. Shaking hands with construction workers and admiring their progress on the project, Clinton later said at the National Clean Energy Summit, “Those construction workers are the people who are going to make the difference in moving the clean energy industry forward.” Watch his comments about Ivanpah here.
Project Update: Ivanpah
JULY: Ivanpah, the world’s largest solar thermal project, reached the halfway mark of construction as well as the peak of its construction workforce at the end of July. With more than 2,100 construction workers and project support staff on site, the project remains on track to be completed in 2013. Thanks to the hard work of all workers involved in the heliostat process, the team installed the 100,000th steel pylon and the 50,000th heliostat in July and all three towers “topped out,” or reached their final height, in August.
For more construction updates, satellite images and more, see our most recent Update from Ivanpah.
AUGUST: Reporters from a variety of media outlets visited the Ivanpah project to get a firsthand look at the project at its halfway mark. Outfitted in steel-toed boots and hard hats in the 108°F heat, the group visited the Unit 1 power block area and heliostat assembly facilities. Those brave enough to travel 450 feet up to the top of the Unit 1 tower got breathtaking views of the complex in its entirety. Katie Fehrenbacher of GigaOm compiled amazing photos from atop the tower and a short video, which can be seen here. For more, visit our blog post.
On our compact with the planet: A conversation with Marc Sydnor
SustainOne is the embodiment of BrightSource’s comprehensive environmental commitment. To learn more about BrightSource’s efforts to reduce the environmental footprint of its projects, we recently sat down with Marc Sydnor, the company’s director of environmental affairs.
Tell me about your background – and your role at BrightSource.
I have worked in a number of energy-related industries throughout my career. I started as a geologist in the oil and natural gas industry then moved into groundwater hydrology focusing on environmental remediation. Later, my career shifted into environmental permitting for mines and electrical power plants. I also was a partner in a small wind energy development group for a number of years before I came to BrightSource. Additionally, I have worked with the United Nations’ environmental program, most recently as a lead author on its Global and Environmental Outlook 5, which was launched at the Rio Earth Summit in 2012. I am currently earning a doctorate in international relations with an emphasis on environmental economics, political economy and public policy.
As director of environmental affairs at BrightSource, I work closely with the Project Development team to address any environmental-related issues as our projects move through the permitting process. Once permitted, I work with the team to ensure our projects are in compliance with federal and state environmental regulations. For example, I work closely with Doug Davis, head of environmental compliance, to ensure the Ivanpah project complies with its obligations under the jurisdictions of the California Energy Commission and Bureau of Land Management (BLM).
How does the permitting of fossil fuels compare to renewables?
Compared to renewable energy, permitting fossil fuel projects is straightforward. (Laughs) This is primarily driven by the fact that fossil fuel technologies and their environmental impacts are well known to regulators; regulators have dealt with oil, gas and coal for years. On the other hand, renewables, and in particular solar technologies like BrightSource’s, are new to many regulators as well as the general public. So the potential environmental impacts of these technologies, or lack thereof, are not well understood. Educating regulators and the local communities about our technology and how it interacts with the natural environment is essential to the permitting process. SustainOne helps communicate with stakeholders by clearly articulating the key environmental aspects of our technology.
How does BrightSource reduce the environmental impact of its technology?
BrightSource’s technology and the decisions that have been made to reduce our projects’ footprints are impressive. For example, BrightSource’s ability to leave the natural landscape intact while greatly reducing the amount of grading and leveling is unique even to other types of renewable development. Another way in which our technology minimizes impact is through dry cooling, which consumes about 90 percent less water than a solar thermal plant using wet cooling. BrightSource technology also helps to address climate change by displacing millions of tons of carbon dioxide and avoiding other criteria air pollutants each year, including carbon monoxide, nitrogen oxides and volatile organic compounds.
Regulatory agencies are always looking for opportunities to reduce environmental impacts, and projects that have less environmental impact are easier for them to support. Part of my role is to work with the development team to see how we can further reduce the environmental footprint of our facilities, which helps to move things forward with our regulators.
What do you see on the horizon for environmental stewardship as it relates to renewable energy development?
Climate change fundamentally changes the way we must look at environmental stewardship. From the oceans to habitat in the deserts, climate change is the most impactful issue facing the environment and, as such, must be a top priority for all of us in the environmental community.
Yet, having studied global warming for many years, a recurring theme I have seen is misalignment within the environmental community on how to best address this challenge. Some environmentalists believe strongly in the ability of technology to achieve sustainability and treat climate change issues holistically. Other groups eschew technology and prefer to focus on their specific issue. These two approaches are often at odds and can sometimes have the unintended consequence of affording the opportunity for other industries to expand at the expense of promising technologies that could substantially reduce carbon emissions. Until there is alignment on how to best approach environmental issues, it will be difficult to reach our climate goals. And given climate change’s impact on all aspects on the environment – from the oceans to habitat in the deserts – this has to be a top priority for all of us in the environmental community.
Any parting words?
BrightSource’s efforts to protect the desert tortoise at Ivanpah are exemplary. Across all the industries I have worked in, I have never seen anything that comes close to this program. It is likely the most comprehensive study on the desert tortoise that has ever been undertaken. We have an excellent team of biologists and an outstanding record as a project. We should all take great pride in the work BrightSource has done to care for and study this protected species.
Harvesting renewable energy at scale while preserving the environment: BrightSource's technology is designed to do both. SustainOne is a natural outgrowth of our technology, an all-encompassing approach to best practices and protocols that takes into account construction, decommissioning and everything in between.
Our approach maximizes land efficiency to minimize our footprint. To preserve pristine desert areas, we seek out sites where human activity has already occurred. Further limiting our presence: BrightSource’s proprietary technology does not require completely level ground. In fact, it minimizes grading and reduces the need for concrete foundations, allowing for the maximum retention of vegetation, washes and natural features.
To conserve water, one of the desert’s most precious assets, we employ the closed-loop dry-cooling method, which consumes 90% less water than a solar thermal plant using a less expensive water-cooled technology. By displacing hundreds of tons of carbon emissions and other pollutants each year, we are also safeguarding air quality.
As you would expect, native plants and animals are accorded VIS (Very Important Species) treatment. Areas of rare plants are avoided completely, and we have virtually adopted the endangered desert tortoise in a variety of ways that will contribute to the species’ survival.
There is far more to the SustainOne story. Pick up on it here.
Conference Call: BrightSource on the road
BrightSource energy experts brightened two preeminent solar-technology conferences in September – Solar Power International (SPI) (Orlando, Florida) and SolarPACES (Marrakech, Morocco).
At SPI, the industry’s largest, most comprehensive solar energy event in North America, Keely Wachs (Corporate Communications) shared our experience building the Ivanpah project in a CSP Plants Unveiled presentation. Joe Desmond (Government Affairs & Corporate Communication) discussed the technical and economic developments during his presentation on Energy Storage as it relates to key utility customers and stakeholders.
At SolarPACES, BrightSource experts delivered an impressive four presentations, including a plenary presentation during the conference opening, titled Current Trends in LCOE (Levelized Cost of Energy) of CSP Plants, given by Yoel Gilon (Senior Vice President R&D). Other presentations included The BrightSource Energy Solar Field Layout, by Eyal Rozenman (Solar Field Optimization Manager), Valuing Thermal Energy Storage by Or Kroyzer (Production Modelling Manager), and CSP Plants as Creators of Local Jobs and Economics, presented by Ambassador Tom Riley (Senior Advisor BrightSource Energy).