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Making Solar Cheaper with Natural Gas

Florida Power and Light has built a solar power plant linked to a natural gas plant.
March 5, 2010

A promising approach to reducing the cost of solar power is moving forward with the construction of an installation in Indianatown, FL, that will combine a field of solar concentrators with a natural gas power plant.

Today The New York Times has an update on the project, which the utility Florida Power and Light (FPL) announced almost two years ago, and which we wrote about here. When completed later this year, the power plant is expected to generate up to 75 megawatts of power by making use of turbines at the natural gas plant, which itself has a 3,600 megawatt capacity.

The solar concentrators generate steam, which can be used to drive the turbines. Using existing turbines and generators can greatly reduce the cost of a solar power plant. FPL says the current project reduces costs by 20 percent, according to the Times.

Similar natural gas-solar hybrid projects are being built in Egypt, Morocco, and Algeria. There’s also an effort to pair solar concentrators with coal fired power plants. Abengoa, the Spanish based company that’s building natural gas plants in Morocco and Algeria, is working with Xcel Energy in Colorado to build solar coal hybrid test facility. According to Abengoa, such hybrids could cut the cost of solar power by 30 to 50 percent to as low as 6 cents per kilowatt hour, which is competitive with many fossil fuel power plants.

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