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PG&E upgrades BrightSource deal to 1.3GW

May 13, 2009 - Cleantech.com

Series of seven solar thermal projects in California are expected to power more than half a million homes in 'largest solar deal in the world.'

San Francisco-based utility Pacific Gas & Electric (NYSE: PCG) said today it has signed seven deals with Oakland, Calif.'s BrightSource Energy for solar thermal projects totalling 1.31 gigawatts.

The deal is inclusive of the five previously announced solar thermal projects totalling 900 megawatts (see PG&E to get 900 MW of solar thermal from BrightSource).

PG&E said the agreement represents the largest solar deal in the world. The first of the seven deals, a 110 MW plan in Ivanpah, Calif., is expected to come online in 2012.

BrightSource plans to secure project financing in the second half of this year.

BrightSource is among the companies taking the power-tower approach to solar thermal. Its competitors in that technology include Abengoa Solar, Sener, eSolar and SolarReserve—with all taking vastly different approaches to heliostat sizes and heat-transfer fluids.

The power-tower technology promises higher thermodynamic efficiency and scalability than trough-based CST but is still being proven in field testing. Trough developers include Solar Millennium and Solel (see Cleantech Group picks winners and losers in concentrated solar thermal).

BrightSource has raised more than $160 million in backing from investors including BP Alternative Energy, StatoilHydro Venture, Black River, VantagePoint Venture Partners, Morgan Stanley, DBL Investors, Draper Fisher Jurvetson, Chevron Technology Ventures, and Google (see Google gets into more solar and Google admits VC rumors).

PG&E has signed other high-profile solar deals that aren't materializing as planned.

Palo Alto, Calif.-based Ausra has long-term plans to fulfill its contract for a 177 MW solar thermal plant but is concentrating on generating immediate revenue by selling solar thermal components (see Ausra shaves staff as it chases immediate revenue and Ausra scores $25.5M for new equipment sales focus). Meanwhile, Hayward, Calif.-based OptiSolar sold its pipeline of projects to First Solar (Nasdaq: FSLR), including the $1 billion, 550-MW thin-film solar plant under a power-purchase agreement with PG&E (see First Solar buys OptiSolar's pipeline of projects for $400M and PG&E mega solar deal sparks industry).

In April, PG&E requested approval from the California Public Utilities Commission to enter into a power purchase agreement with Solaren for a solar array in space (see Solaren's plan from outer space).