Solar thermal fights back; FedEx expands its electric fleet

Every day, 5,000 times more energy shines down on the Earth from the sun than it takes to power the entire world.

That enlightening factoid comes to us today from the solar industry’s newest trade group, the Concentrating Solar Power Alliance. CSP, as it is called in the industry, is what most of us call solar thermal — where panels or troughs collect or concentrate heat from the sun, which is then used to heat a liquid, create steam and run a generator.

Large-scale solar thermal projects have had a tough time in the past year, what with the pressure from falling photovoltaic panel prices and permitting challenges related to how much water they use.

In the Riverside East solar zone, the public land east of the Coachella Valley, three of the first four fast-track projects were originally solar thermal — Solar Millennium’s Blythe and Palen projects and NextEra Energy’s Genesis project.  As most local readers are aware, both Blythe and Palen are now on hold, presumably being retooled as PV plants by their new owner, solarhybrid.

Only the 250-megawatt Genesis project, now under construction, has remained solar thermal, and NextEra’s next project planned for the region, the 750-megawatt McCoy plant, is PV.

BrightSource, one of the three solar thermal companies behind the new organization, also has a local solar thermal project in the works, the 750-megawatt Rio Mesa plant on private land near Blythe.

Making the world a little more welcoming to solar thermal is where the new group comes in, building on the efforts of a new international organization, the World Solar Thermal Electricity Association. Both groups are clearly aimed at promoting the benefits of solar thermal technology to energy markets. 

While more expensive upfront, the alliance says that solar thermal plants are much more reliable than PV projects and produce power that can be stored to match peak energy demands.  Another plus, they can keep operating even when the sun is not shining. 

Solar thermal also produces more construction and permanent jobs than PV plants.  A 2006 study commissioned by the U.S. National Renewable Energy Lab for the Department of Energy found that a 100 megawatt solar thermal plant creates more than $600 million in impact to gross state output, ten times that of a fossil fuel plant due to the local content and job creation.

With PV clearly the technology of choice right now, and panel prices continuing to move toward grid parity — it will be interesting to see  how CSPA will market itself and its projects.

In other breaking green tech news today, Smith Electric Vehicles of Kansas City, Mo.,  unveiled a new all-electric truck that FedEx will be adding to its fleet throughout the rest of the year.

FedEx put its first all-electric vehicles on the road in Los Angeles in March 2010.

The new FedEx electric vehicles will have a range of 100 miles on a single charge.










The new trucks will have a range of about 100 miles on a single charge, which makes them ideal for urban delivery routes.  Don’t know if we’ll see any in the valley, but hats off to FedEx for its ongoing efforts.