By Brian Mahar
Hot, dry and dusty. That’s Bakersfield, California.
It’s also home to the first solar thermal power plant in California in nearly two decades. And it’s become somewhat of “Tigercomm West” – a satellite office of my employer. My colleague Mark Sokolove and I took our second trip out to AREVA Solar’s Kimberlina Solar Thermal Power Plant a few weeks ago. We saw some familiar faces at the Holiday Inn and enjoyed some grilled cactus at the Cactus Valley Mexican Restaurant.
Mark and I were there to staff our client, AREVA Solar (formerly Ausra), for a site visit in conjunction with the 4th Concentrated Solar Power Summit USA. About 100 solar industry professionals journeyed down to Bakersfield to see the technology advances AREVA Solar has made in the past 18 months at Kimberlina.
Here’s Mark (third from left) and me (first on left) staffing AREVA Solar CEO Bob Fishman for an interview with KGET anchor Jim Scott.
Fortunately we didn’t have to sit on a bus for four hours, but Mark and I were on dawn patrol. Amity Addrissi from KBAK/KBFX shot on location throughout the morning and became quite the solar expert after four hours. KGET also did an update story on Kimberlina, as well as KERO.
The Bakersfield Californian also reported on the expansion of the plant to include a fourth solar steam generator (SSG) that will operate with the technological advances that have been made at Kimberlina – sustained, saturated, superheated steam that makes electric turbines run more efficiently.
Despite our visitors from the conference making great time on the road and arriving an hour early, the event went off quite smoothly. AREVA Solar CEO Dr. Fishman greeted the visitors and posed to them three power customer questions the CSP industry needs to answer, which you can find on Renewable Energy World and AREVA North America’s Next Energy blog. Dr. Bill Conlon, AREVA Solar’s SVP for engineering, followed up with a technical presentation on the Kimberlina plant, the expansion and superheated steam.
My colleagues make fun of me for getting excited about steam (I have a thermometer on my whiteboard that shows the difference between process heat, industrial heat, superheat and Washington DC summer heat). But it’s an important breakthrough in the effort to scale green energy technologies. By meeting the steam needs of conventional power plants, AREVA Solar can augment their power generation with solar steam generators. It will cut pollution and provide more power when it’s needed most – when it’s sunniest. Since going all-renewable all-the-time seems far off, cleaning up our current power plants is a step in the right direction.
We also saw the beginnings of construction of the new SSG at Kimberlina, which will be dedicated to producing superheated steam and will utilize the latest AREVA Solar technology. It was fascinating to hear about how, in 18 months, the engineering pros have significantly reduced the man hours it will take to construct SSG4 from what it took for SSG1 and the increased temperatures it will be able to produce.
Despite the Bakersfield dust I still can’t get off my shoes, it was great to get out of the office and on the ground at a power plant for a couple of days. J.D. Smith and the rest of the plant’s staff are probably glad to be rid of the P.R. guys, but they couldn’t be nicer to work with. And it’s a great experience for us to see up close and in person some of the very cool technologies we’re writing about and pitching. These men and women have been working in the power industry for years and it makes our jobs easier (and more interesting) when we really get to know the technologies and the industries we work with.
I’m looking forward to getting back there to see SSG4 in person when it’s completed.