Welcoming the World’s Very First Solar-Geothermal Hybrid Plant
Integrated renewable energy systems involve the use of two or more complementing energy sources in order to improve the systems overall power output efficiency. While in theory any energy type combination is possible, in practice there are only a few types of combinations that are actually used. This is because some renewable energy sources have limitations that might render the system impractical in the first place.
Still, despite the limited number of combinations, any integrated system that uses only two energy sources should not present itself as unusual or surprising. However when a renewable hybrid power plant is presented as the world’s first, that’s when we raise our eyebrows a bit and ask about the technical validity of such claim.
A few months ago, last May 2012, there was a dedication ceremony for a new power plant that was just recently constructed in Fallon, Nevada. The Stillwater geothermal project, under the “blessing” of the United States Department of Energy had built a 59 megawatt all-renewable power plant, aimed at providing clean and safe energy to at least 50,000 local homes. The recognition of the project was met with good support, and in fact it was even provided with a $40 million tax support via the Recovery Act during its construction. This move to usher and encourage the use of all-renewable energy plants seems to be one of the many steps that would be taken by the Obama Administration’s “all-out, all-of-the-above approach to American energy”.
Now what’s so special with a power plant that embraces an idea and technology that was already thought many years earlier? Well, the grand presentation of the Stillwater project may sound a little too exaggerated in the face of already available solar/geothermal systems, but the “world’s first” declaration is actually pointing on an important fact: the truth that our application of green technology is still just at the supplementary scale.
You see, there are currently no renewable systems (much less hybrid ones) that are dedicated to perform independently at a large industrial scale. Solar and wind farms around the world may be able to provide energy for millions of homes worldwide, but they are not really independent. Most of the larger systems are actually connected to grid (as an auxiliary energy system), and almost all independent renewable energy systems are only used at a significantly small scale.
With the Stillwater geothermal project, authorities involved aim on making the first moves on actually making renewable green energy the default source of energy. So far, they have successfully demonstrated the feasibility of an all-renewable energy plant to provide peak and baseload power to large communities just like how a conventional coal power plant would.
The 59 megawatts of energy output is currently divided into 26 megawatts for the solar energy system, and 33 megawatts for the geothermal energy system. The efficiently combined power outputs of these two systems are the key to allow Fallon’s new power plant to perform at such stable rate.
Would we see the development of more all-renewable dedicated power plants after this? Most likely I believe. In fact, it might just be a matter of time before the next few ones are built.
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