Just days after an investigation was launched into failed solar manufacturer Solyndra, a Department of Energy (DOE) loan guarantee recipient—the DOE announced a flurry of funding measures for new solar, offshore wind, and geothermal projects. The new projects will help achieve President Obama’s goal of generating 80% of U.S. power from clean energy within the next 25 years, the DOE said.

A $1.2B Loan for a California CSP Project

The DOE on Monday said it had finalized a $1.2 billion loan to Mojave Solar LLC for development of the 250-MW Mojave concentrating solar plant (CSP) in San Bernardino County, Calif.

Project sponsor Abengoa Solar says the project will be the first U.S. utility-scale deployment of that company’s latest solar collector assembly, a significant improvement over the prior generation of solar concentrating technology installed in the U.S.  in the 1980s and 1990s. The collector, which was originally developed in connection with an award from the DOE’s Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy, reportedly has a number of advanced features, including a lighter, stronger frame designed to hold parabolic mirrors that are easier and less expensive to build and install.

The new heat collection element increases thermal efficiency by up to 30% over first-generation CSP plants.

A $150M Loan Guarantee for a Multicrystalline Solar Wafer Maker

The DOE also finalized a $150 million loan guarantee on Sept. 8 to 1366 Technologies for the development of a multicrystalline wafer manufacturing project that could “significantly drive down the costs of solar manufacturing.” The DOE says the project will be able to produce approximately 700 to 1,000 MW of silicon-based wafers annually using a manufacturing process called Direct Wafer. The process could “reduce wafer-manufacturing costs by approximately 50%, dramatically cutting the cost of solar power.”

The first phase of the project will be located in Lexington, Mass., and is expected to fund 70 permanent jobs and 50 construction jobs. The company is evaluating site locations for another planned phase, which it anticipates will fund hundreds of additional jobs.

The original development of the company’s Direct Wafer technology was supported with a $4 million grant from the DOE’s Advanced Research Projects Agency-Energy program and a $3 million grant from its Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy. The manufacturing process reduces four separate manufacturing steps into a single, low-cost continuous process and greatly reduces silicon waste by forming individual wafers directly from a bath of molten silicon. A thin sheet of silicon freezes inside the direct wafer furnace and is then removed and laser-trimmed to size. At full production, the entire wafer formation process is completed in just 25 seconds, while conventional batch processing can take up to three days.

A $90.5M Loan Guarantee for HCPV Facility in Colorado

On Friday, the DOE said  it had finalized a $90.6 million loan guarantee to Cogentrix of Alamosa to support the Alamosa Solar Generating Project, a 30-MW high-concentration photovoltaic (HCPV) power generation facility.

Located in south-central Colorado near the city of Alamosa, it represents one of the first utility-scale, HCPV energy generation facilities in the nation. The proposed facility will use “innovative HCPV systems consisting of concentrating optics and multi-junction solar cell panels that are controlled by a dual-axis tracking system,” the DOE said.

The tracking system rotates and tilts the cells throughout the day so the surface of the solar panel maintains an optimal angle with respect to the sun. Cogentrix estimates the multi-junction solar cells are nearly 40% efficient, which is about double that of more traditional PV panels, making concentrated photovoltaic technology advantageous in areas with high amounts of direct sunlight, such as south-central Colorado.

DOE to Fund 41 Offshore Wind Energy Projects for Faster Deployment

The DOE on Sept. 8 said it would award $43 million to 41 projects across 20 states over the next five years to increase technical innovations, lower costs, and shorten timelines for offshore wind deployment. The funding is expected to advance wind turbine design tools and hardware, and improve information about U.S. offshore wind resources and infrastructure.

The DOE said the awards—which are subject to congressional appropriations—would help the U.S. compete in the global wind energy manufacturing sector. North America lags far behind offshore wind markets in the European Union (EU) and Asia: It has yet to build a wind farm on continental waters, while in the EU, cumulative offshore capacity reached 2,946 MW in 2010, according to the Global Wind Energy Council.

Projects that will be funded by the DOE will focus on three technical approaches. Certain projects will advance current state-of-the-art modeling and analysis tools for the design, performance assessment, system modeling, and cost assessment of offshore wind systems. Offshore wind system design studies will develop conceptual designs and assessments of offshore wind plant systems that enhance energy capture, improve performance and reliability, and reduce the cost of energy from integrated wind plant systems. And other projects will support the research and development of innovative rotor and control systems designs for advanced components and integrated systems to reduce capital costs of these systems by up to 50%.

Additional projects will focus on seven approaches to removing market barriers to offshore wind energy deployment. An offshore wind market and economic analysis will seek to reduce financing costs and increase investor confidence by supporting offshore wind market analysis to inform stakeholder decision-making regarding individual projects, industry issues, and energy policy. Also, three projects will work to expedite the permitting process by performing ecological studies and predictive modeling and validating innovative technologies for avian and bat studies.

Another project will assess the current domestic supply chain infrastructure and recommend strategies for national manufacturing infrastructure development to support offshore wind deployment. Four projects will study the integration of offshore wind energy into the grid. Four projects will assess ports, vessels, and operations that will be involved with offshore wind energy efforts. And eight projects will develop an accessible network of information on subjects including U.S. offshore wind resources, design requirements for offshore wind turbines, and environmental conditions affecting offshore wind energy systems. Finally, one project will evaluate the potential effects of offshore wind energy facilities on electronic navigation, detection, or communication equipment such as airborne radar, global positioning systems (GPS), shipboard radios, and SONAR.

A $38M Award for Geothermal Projects

On Sept. 8, the DOE also announced a $38 million award over three years for projects to accelerate the development of 32 “promising” geothermal projects across 14 states that will develop and test new ways to locate geothermal resources and improve resource characterization, drilling, and reservoir engineering techniques.

Each project seeks to help reduce the cost of producing geothermal power, making it more competitive with conventional sources of baseload electricity, the DOE said.

Projects will perform feasibility studies before advancing to prototyping and validation, which will be conducted through laboratory-based research and field-testing. The selected projects will also support the DOE’s goals of lowering the cost and financial risk associated with confirming and characterizing geothermal resources and will help overcome key technical challenges to reservoir creation and the sustainability of enhanced geothermal systems.

For example, the DOE’s Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory will predict changes in fluid flow through fractures and will improve current methods of estimating geothermal reservoir temperatures to enable subsurface imaging and reduce exploration costs. Impact Technologies of Tulsa, Oklahoma, will examine the feasibility of employing intense radiation technology to drill and seal off the walls of geothermal wells in order to reduce drilling costs.

Sources: POWERnews, EERE, DOE