Stirling Energy Systems Inc. (SES, Phoenix, AZ), a developer of alternative energy solutions using solar, wind, and green energy, has unveiled a massive multi-megawatt, solar thermal power project slated for the desert Southwest that would be the first commercial application of dish-style, solar thermal energy units. The partnership between SES and Southern California Edison (SCE), would see the construction of an expansive 4,500-acre solar-generating station in Southern California. When completed, the proposed power station would be the world's largest solar facility, capable of producing more electricity than all other US solar projects combined.
The 20-year power purchase agreement, which is subject to California Public Utilities Commission approval, calls for development of a 500 MW solar project 70 miles northeast of Los Angeles using Stirling dish technology. The agreement includes an option to expand the project to 850 MW. Initially, Stirling would build a 1 MW test facility using 40 of the company's 37-ft diameter dish assemblies. Subsequently, a 20,000-dish array would be constructed near Victorville, CA, during a four-year period.
Although Stirling dish technology has been successfully tested for 20 years, the SCE-Stirling project represents a first major application in the commercial electricity generation field. Experimental models of the Stirling dish technology have undergone more than 26,000 hours of successful solar operation. The Stirling dish technology converts thermal energy to electricity by using a mirror array to focus the sun's rays on the receiver end of a Stirling engine. The internal side of the receiver then heats hydrogen gas, which expands, creating pressure that drives a piston, crank shaft, and drive shaft assembly (like those found in internal combustion engines) without igniting the gas. The drive shaft turns a small electricity generator. The entire energy conversion process takes place within a canister the size of an oil barrel. The process requires no water and the engine is emission-free.