Solar power is one of the “green” alternatives to fossil fuels that will help our world address its energy needs. In one hour, the Sun hits the Earth with more energy than is consumed worldwide in a year, according to ClimateScience.org. Yet harnessing this solar energy is complex: engineering solutions include both Solar Photovoltaics (Solar PV) technology and solar thermal methods such as Concentrated Solar Power (CSP).
Solar PV generates electricity directly and is more widely deployed worldwide; the battery-based storage solution available with PV has limited capacity. By contrast, CSP plants use thermal energy to generate electricity, replacing fossil fuels. CSP plants can also provide heat for industrial processes. Although there are high construction costs related to the CSP plant, this solution offers many efficiencies and an ability to scale that can produce long-term dividends.
According to the Market Research Future (MRFR) Concentrating Solar Power Market Research Report, the CSP market size is projected to reach USD 16.41 billion by 2027 from an estimated USD 7.60 billion in 2020 with ~ 17.1% CAGR from 2020 to 2027.
BrightSource is one of the world’s leaders in renewable thermal-solar energy and the key application of Concentrated Solar Power, where the company provides a wide range of services from project design, plant control, solar field components, construction, commissioning, and operation.
BrightSource currently has CSP projects operational in Israel and California, US. They are currently commissioning a new plant in Dubai and have another under construction in South Africa. Globally, these plants produce more than 700 megawatts (MW) of energy, enough to supply 700,000 homes.
BrightSource’s key asset is its breakthrough intellectual property (IP), including the software and its innovative algorithms, solar field design, and the know-how acquired from years in the business.
When BrightSource wanted to develop large-scale innovative projects, its partners and bankers needed insurance against any potential risks that might disrupt the smooth construction and operation of its plants. An innovative partnership with NCC Group for its intellectual property escrow and verification services helped to solve these challenges.
How Concentrated Solar Power Works
Concentrated Solar Power with thermal energy storage can produce clean, reliable, and cost-competitive energy at all hours. A CSP plant creates and stores thermal energy for use in generating electricity. The plant consists of a solar field to collect the thermal energy, a system to store that collected energy, and a power block to convert the energy to electricity.
The solar field contains tens of thousands of mirrors (referred to as "heliostats") mounted on dual-axis trackers that follow the sun and aim its energy to the Molten Salt Receiver (MSR) at the top of the central tower. Inside the receiver, a heat transfer fluid (molten salt) absorbs the solar energy.
The salt is pumped from a cold tank at around 290 °C, then heated up to around 565 °C at the receiver and stored in a hot tank. The hot salt tank is effectively a giant charged battery. When the plant is ready to generate electricity, the molten salt flows through a heat exchanger where it heats steam to the high temperatures needed to operate the steam turbine generator. The system delivers synchronous, reliable, and renewable electricity to the grid. The thermal energy stored in the molten salt allows the CSP plant to generate electricity at all times of day, shifting production as needed to support demand.
CSP plants rely upon sophisticated control systems to manage the solar field, storage, and power block systems, and to control the overall plant process from sun to salt to steam to electricity. Automated Distributed Control Systems (DCS) and dedicated solar field control systems are designed according to the plant's specific needs.
Photo courtesy of BrightSource
According to the Concentrating Solar Power Best Practices study published in 2020, CSP holds tremendous potential as a lower-cost, on-demand renewable energy source. The report states that over the past 15 years, the CSP industry has emerged and evolved into a global industry and supply chain. CSP plants have been built in 12 different countries, with the industry now—in 2020—approaching 100 plants in commercial operation.
Protecting CSP investment
The reality of CSP initiatives is that total investment in a CSP plant can run into hundreds of millions of dollars. As a result, protecting all the IP required for the construction and operation of the plant is a necessary and critical requirement of the investors in a CSP plant.
In the case of BrightSource, the company worked together with NCC Group to develop a tailor-made business continuity and risk management solution to allow investors to witness important developmental stages themselves and to have access to important documentation should the need arise. Documenting the build and technical know-how through IP escrow and verification added a level of reassurance at every stage with key project milestones included tied to the release of project funding. This agreement met the needs of both BrightSource and its investors.
This process ensures that software source code and other IP are held securely and independently with agreement from all parties, so that the material can be accessed and released if needed in the future. The escrow agreement and its ongoing execution with all the parties created a trusted relationship, giving each side the confidence to pursue these major projects.
Assurance for Partners
BrightSource was able to assure its partners that the IP and software necessary to build and operate the CSP plants would be available to them at all times in the future. The periodic verified deposits tracked to key milestones and provided the investors with a tangible way to track progress on the projects.
BrightSource had a business requirement to make its partner feel safe and to secure the huge investments that go into these projects. IP escrow, provided by a neutral, third-party like NCC Group, is a platform to make sure that every stakeholder’s interests are protected.
This escrow agreement also frees up their team up to focus on the delivery and installation of each new solar plant. As the new CSP plants prepare to come online, all parties can be safe in the knowledge that BrightSource’s unique IP for each installation is protected.
In an industry with major investment needs, technology and IP are only one piece of the puzzle. The investors and partners involved in a Concentrated Solar Plan also need to know that their interests are protected. With these assurances, BrightSource’s CSP projects around the globe are moving forward.
Written by Stephanie Wald, BrightSource and Nicholas Frasse-Sombet, NCC Group