California Corporate Moves

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Chevron Unveils Solar Testbed in Bakersfield

Chevron Corp. has unveiled a huge solar energy test facility in California, according to a report in the Los Angeles Times. The oil giant has revealed that it filled an 8-acre site in Bakersfield, CA with 7,700 solar panels to test low-cost energy systems for its operations.

The panels, in various sizes, represent seven cutting-edge photovoltaic technologies from seven companies that Chevron reportedly is considering as possible candidates to power its operations worldwide. Chevron, which has operations in 100 countries, told the Los Angeles Times it is seeking panels that cost less and are more reliable and efficient than what’s available today.

“We’re quite a large company that uses quite a lot of energy,” Des King, president of Chevron Technology Ventures, told the Times. King’s division evaluates alternative energy technologies.

The test complex just outside Bakersfield is the latest in a move by large companies to tap emerging technologies as a way to cut energy costs. BP Solar, a subsidiary of British oil giant BP, designs, manufactures and markets solar products and says it invests more than $10 million annually in photovoltaic research and development. Royal Dutch Shell has invested more than $1 billion in alternative energy projects.

Chevron plans to spend at least $2 billion more over the next three years on renewable power ventures and research. Chevron researchers will study how the panels perform against a benchmark system provided by Japanese firm Sharp Electronics Corp. The entire system, known as Project Brightfield, is located on the site of a former refinery tank yard that Chevron used from the early 1900s until 1986 and was later demolished.

Six of the solar panel companies—Sharp, Abound Solar, Schuco, Solar Frontier Ltd., Solibro and MiaSole of Santa Clara, Calif.—provided thin-film panels. Innovalight Inc., based in Sunnyvale, Calif., was the sole supplier of crystalline-silicon panels. The panels will produce about 740 kilowatts of electricity that will be used to power the pumps and the pipelines operated at Chevron’s Kern River oil field facility nearby. Extra power will be transferred to the local Pacific Gas & Electric Co. utility grid under a metering system that gives Chevron credit for the excess energy.

Yolo County, SunPower Team to Put federal Energy Bonds to Use

A northern California community is making good use of U.S. economic recovery stimulus funds to build a one-megawatt solar power facility.

Yolo County has teamed with solar power company SunPower Corp. and Bank of America to work on the design and construction of a new solar power system.

The partners are financing the project in part through clean energy renewable energy bonds and energy conservation bonds available through the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009.

Ray Groom, the Yolo County general services director, said his community has no out-of-pocket expenses for the facility. The project would save the community an estimated $8.8 million in energy costs over the next 25 years, he added.

The system uses plans developed by SunPower that lets solar panels track the movement of the sun, increasing the amount of sunlight captured by 25 percent over conventional panels.

Yolo County said the amount of harmful greenhouse gas emissions removed by the project is equal to removing more than 5,700 cars from California roads over the 30-year life cycle of the solar project.

Groom said he believed the Yolo County project was the first solar project to make use of clean energy bonds under the federal stimulus package.

Photovoltaic Power Ramps Up In Victorville

SolFocus, a Silicon Valley start-up, is installing a one-megawatt solar power plant at Victor Valley College, northeast of Los Angeles. The nation’s first big concentrating photovoltaic power plant is under construction in the California desert.

The company builds large solar panels that contain small mirrors that concentrate sunlight onto tiny, high-efficiency solar cells. Though more expensive than conventional solar cells, they use a fraction of the silicon and produce more electricity.

That means less land is needed for a SolFocus power plant than for a facility deploying conventional photovoltaic panels.

Victor Valley College selected SolFocus after receiving competitive bids from several companies that install conventional photovoltaic panels and thin-film solar systems.

“After reviewing several options for a solar provider, SolFocus demonstrated that it could deliver the best value in solar energy for the college,” Robert Silverman, Victor Valley College’s president, said in a statement. The SolFocus power plant will supply about 30 percent of the college’s overall electricity demand.

SolFocus’ technology needs direct sunlight to maximize electricity production. The 122-panel arrays will cover six acres at the college and the project is expected to be completed by early May. SolFocus also has two other megawatt-size power plants undergoing permitting in the California desert.

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