CSP Today interviews Avi Brenmiller, President and CEO of Brenmiller Energy

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In a market that has to ensure that dispatchable power is available at all times, Brenmiller Energy an innovative solar company, provides a modular solar steam generation product for power generation applications.

CSP Today speaks to Avi Brenmiller, CEO of Brenmiller Energy, about scalable solutions for both large and smaller users, price competitiveness, steam augmentation and how the technology fits into the South African landscape.

 

CSP Today: What is unique about the CSP technology developed by Brenmiller Energy?

When we started the development process of our product, I set three challenges which our product had to overcome:

  • Scalability – the ability to create a scalable solution that can accommodate both large and smaller users. This is the main challenge of the previous technologies as the facilities required do not really make economic sense below 50MWe level.
  • Power availability – for solar power to become a true alternative to base load, we need the ability to dispatch the power when it is most needed, be it early morning or late afternoon, as determined by the user.
  • Price competiveness – ability to compete with existing technologies on a like for like basis. In the case of CSP, this would mean a comparison on each area required, i.e. for a square meter of collector area, how much energy is generated.

I am proud to say that we have accomplished all we set out to do.

The basic building block of the system is the bCell™. This is an autonomous solar cell that can generate between 1.5 and 2.5MWe (depending on ambient conditions). The fact that each cell can operate as a stand-alone unit, removes any scalability risk and further simplifies the integration to the power block (if required).

The bCell™ has a built-in storage capability. The system uses a unique heat transfer medium as well as a unique storage solution that allows the power to be stored for a long period of time and dispatched when required. An additional major breakthrough is that we are able to reach a solar capacity factor of more than 50% without the risks inherent in the thermal oil and molten salt based solution. The system also has a built-in hybrid mechanism, allowing for a combination of other technologies (fossil, biomass or other) and can thus provide 100% of the user’s energy requirements.

Above all, we out perform any other solar technology in the price per kWh. This is achieved through applying mass production techniques in every stage of the design process, which allow for significant cost reductions compared to existing designs. For example, because we use a rail system to move the units into position, both our civil works component and environmental impact are significantly reduced compared to conventional technologies. Elements such as these, combined with greater efficiencies, drive the cost per kWh down and allow us to compete even with PV based technology.

 

CSP Today: At what stage is the technology?

The technology is well advanced in the development and testing cycle. Throughout the development cycle, it was key to us to ensure the technology is bankable. As such we sought ways to not “reinvent the wheel” but used the same building blocks that were used in the SEGS projects in California in the 1980’s, which I was personally involved in, and as the CEO of Solel/Siemens CSP from 1997.

When we talk about a CSP plant, we talk about two main components. The solar filed, which generates heat and the power block that converts the heat into steam and feeds it into the turbine. Whilst the integration between the two parts is a key risk in the conventional CSP technologies, our system simplifies the process and removes any “Integration Risk”. With thermal generation technology well established, our distributed generation concept means that each bCell™ delivers stable steam at turbine conditions according to the manufacturer’s specifications.

We have a fully operating demo plant, which is comprised of a full steam generation unit, at our test site in Israel, where we can demonstrate the results of the measured steam conditions.

 

CSP Today: How does this technology fit into the African landscape?

Through our representatives in Africa, Cresco Energy, we believe we can offer the unique features of the technology and the promise it holds for Africa. I will give three examples.

Firstly, the distributed generation concept means that it is now possible to provide rural communities with cost effective power. From the utility perspective this means that instead of deploying hundreds of kilometres of transmission lines (and the associated losses) in order to serve a small community, they can erect a solar plant with minimal environmental impacts, which will provide 100% of the power requirements of the community. Not only will this contribute to the rural development, but the plant itself will create local jobs in the operation and maintenance phase.

Secondly, our technology can be used for “Steam Augmentation”. As is often the case in Africa, utilities often have legacy plants that they have to continue operating or have to resort to very expensive power in order to allow the economy to grow. If an economy is growing at 7-8% per annum, the local utility is probably under massive pressure to “keep up” and can’t afford the time, or in some cases the budget, of building new, cost effective power plants. With our technology, we can provide steam to an existing turbine at the specified conditions. By reducing the fossil fuel demand and associated cost, we can free up budget to be applied elsewhere, for example in improving transmission infrastructure.

The last example relates to the mining industry. As is often the case, mining requires substantial power for its normal operations, whether this is used for cooling or for processing of product. Our ability to provide the mines with cost competitive steam, frees up capacity that can be used for expansion. In the case of absorption chillers, as an example, this would be achieved through our system either providing the steam required for the cooling process, thus releasing electrical capacity, or reducing the fossil fuel related cost, freeing up capital.

Avi Brenmiller will be speaking at CSP Today South Africa 2014, taking place in Cape Town on the 8-9 April.

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