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Updates and commentary by Constance R. (Connie) Barnhart on topics relating to renewable energy (especially wind and solar energy) development, including updates on government incentives, legislation and policy issues, contract, commercial and financial law issues, and other news & developments in the Renewable Energy sectors.

 

New Trend: Hybrid Solar & Natural Gas Power Plants

Martin County, FL Solar Energy Center - Largest Hybrid Solar & Natural Gas Power Plant in the WorldFlorida Power & Light’s new Martin Next Generation Solar Energy Center, the world’s first and largest hybrid solar-thermal and natural gas power plant, which went online in December, 2010, typifies a growing trend toward combining renewable energy sources with natural gas technologies.

Recent commentary has drawn attention to an evolving trend toward construction of hybrid power plants utilizing clean renewable technologies such as wind or solar energy, combined with natural gas, an inexpensive and plentiful energy source. When the sun is not shining or the wind not blowing, the natural gas combustion engines kick in, allowing the plant to operate continuously, boosting its economic viability.

A recent article entitled, “Hybrid Plants Inch Ahead,” by Editor Bill Opalka and published on September 21, 2011 RenewablesBiz, highlights several hybrid power plants being built or recently operational around the world.

Among the new operating plants mentioned is Florida Power & Light’s first hybrid energy plant, the Martin Next Generation Solar Energy Center, in Martin County, Florida. This is first and largest hybrid solar and natural gas power plant in the world. The solar portion of the plant alone is the largest solar energy plant in the United States, outside California. The hybrid plant went into full operation in December, 2010, and has been operating for nearly one year.

Constance R. (Connie) Barnhart is proud to have represented one of the parties, a supplier of solar thermal components to the plant, in the transactions that led to the construction and launch of the Martin Next Generation Solar Energy Center. See relevant renewable energy experience.

The Martin Next Generation Solar Energy Center

In Martin County, Florida, Florida Power & Light (FPL) installed a new $476 million 75-megawatt solar plant to supply heat in an existing 3,705-megawatt combined-cycle gas plant, which was the largest fossil fuel power plant in the United States. Without creating emissions, the solar-thermal (also called concentrating solar power (CSP)) system of parabolic troughs with 190,000 solar thermal tracking mirrors creates heat, which is used to create steam and generate electricity, in addition to the electricity generated by the combined-cycle gas generators.

“It’s just a way to augment what we already have in a heat recovery steam generator,” John Gnecco, director of project development at FPL told RenewablesBiz. “Combustion turbines are going to run at full capacity most of the time, and when we get the sun, for free, we’ll actually generate more electricity as a unit than we normally would have done,” he said.

“Obviously, it makes this more cost-competitive than if we built a stand-alone 75-megawatt solar thermal plant,” Mr. Gnecco said.

The plant started generating solar steam in September 2010 as the first of its four phases went online, and the new Energy Center became fully operational in December, 2010. FP&L had projected that the plant would generate 155,000 megawatt-hours a year on average.

“We’re tracking that number pretty well, but we really won’t know until we get a full year or two of operations,” Mr. Gnecco told RenewablesBiz.

According to FPL,

“Over 30 years, the solar facility will prevent the emission of more than 2.75 million tons of greenhouse gases. According to the U.S. EPA, this is the equivalent of removing more than 18,700 cars from the road every year for the entire life of the project. It will decrease fossil-fuel usage by approximately 41 billion cubic feet of natural gas and 600,000 barrels of oil .”

See a video about the Martin Next Generation Solar Energy Center, the World’s first and largest Hybrid Solar-Thermal/ Natural Gas Power Plant »

Other Hybrid Plants

According to the article in EnergyBiz, another hybrid plant combining 30 megawatts of concentrating solar power with 470 megawatts of natural gas generation went online in Morocco in November, 2010. And, “a 150-megawatt natural gas hybrid with 20 megawatts of CSP [concentrating solar power a/k/a/ solar-thermal power] capacity was commissioned south of Cairo late last year.”

Another 530-megawatt plant proposed in Turkey, would include 22 megawatts of GE wind turbines and 50 megawatts of CSP technology.

And “General Electric has broadened its game by expanding a combined cycle plant that integrates solar and wind generation,” according to the RenewablesBiz article. GE invested in CSP technology company eSolar this year, and plans to combine its technology with GE’s combined cycle technology.

“This is all about putting together high efficiency, lower fuel costs and the operating flexibility that goes with it,” Guy DeLeonardo, product manager at GE Energy told RenewablesBiz. “As renewable penetration increases, you need to back that with stable generation that drives the need for operational flexibility,” he said.

According to Bill Opalka, author of the RenewablesBiz article, “Intermittent resources like wind and solar ramp up or down during the course of a day, and system integrators often need to balance load with fossil generation. One reason natural gas combined-cycle plants have gained favor is their ability to start quickly or turn down as more renewable energy is integrated into the grid.”

“It’s the idea that when the wind’s blowing and the sun’s shining, they will always be ‘on’ but this type of gas plant would be the first in numeric order to start when the renewable resources tail off,” DeLeonardo added.

“With the shale gas boom in the United States and increasing demand for renewable energy, technologies are providing the opportunity to meld intermittent solar and wind power with natural gas,” Opalka wrote.

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Constance R. Barnhart
Attorney At Law, Managing Member
Barnhart Law PLC

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