Texas Solar Plant Sets New Trend with Water Saving Technology

The blog was co-authored by Amy Hardberger, an attorney in the EDF Texas office who specializes in the energy-water nexus.

The hard truth is this: Texas will need more electricity as it continues to grow. This means we’ll have to make some tough choices in the future to balance the needs of our economy with the environment. 

Renewable energy, particularly solar, is an important piece of the solution.  As more large solar projects are proposed, regulators, local citizens and developers will need to weigh economic development opportunities with wildlife and land preservation.  In Texas, EDF has been involved in many of these issues, especially the use of water as it relates to power plants.

Renewable energy can be water efficient

Conventional power plants, such as nuclear and coal plants, are well known as high consumers of water, but renewable power is a different story.  Photovoltaic solar projects in Texas require little to no water. 

A lesser known, but very promising solar technology is Concentrating Solar Power (CSP).  CSP uses conventional power plant technology coupled with highly concentrated sunlight to avoid the use of fossil fuels. 

Texas can lead the renewables industry in water efficiency

In terms of water use, CSP developers have traditionally relied on more conventional water-based cooling systems. However, there is a  shift to dry-cooled systems, a more water efficient system – reducing water usage by as much as 90%. This is good news since most CSP projects are proposed in places with a lot of sun and not a lot of water.

Texas may be at the forefront of a utilizing CSP in an even more water efficient way. Texas’ first CSP project is being developed by Tessera Solar. Their design features a technology that uses no water in the electric generation process. The only water needed is to clean the system.

In other locations, Solar Millennium announced its decision to change a planned project in Nevada to dry cooling in November of last year, and BrightSource Energy has chosen to use dry-cooling for all of its projects. 

Texas and a solar boom

This couldn’t come at a better time for Texas. The Public Utilities Commission is finally considering a rule to implement renewable energy goals for non-wind resources from a bill passed in the 2005 Texas Legislative Session that will help kick start solar in Texas.  Meanwhile, conventional power plants that are being proposed have some cities proposing the equivalent of taking out a second mortgage on their water supply

Texas is well positioned for a solar boom to rival the last decade’s wind boom, and we’re glad to see that solar companies are reading the writing on the wall. Trying to find water in the desert is like trying to find a needle in a haystack.  Why waste your time, when you can avoid the haystack all together?

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