CreteBrightSource plans to build a 38-megawatt solar plant on Crete.Photo: SimonaAs policy wonks worry about United States green tech industry’s ability to compete against China and other countries with aggressive renewable energy policies, California’s BrightSource Energy said Thursday that it has signed a deal to supply the technology for a solar thermal power plant to be built in Greece.

The 38-megawatt project, to be developed on the island of Crete by a British-Greek joint venture, is the first time BrightSource’s power tower technology has been exported to Europe.

BrightSource, which has contracts to supply 2,610 megawatts of electricity to California utilities, deploys huge arrays of mirrors called heliostats to focus the sun on a water-filled boiler attached to a 459-foot tall tower. The superheated water vaporizes and the resulting steam drives an electricity turbine. BrightSource’s first U.S. project, the 370-megawatt Ivanpah Solar Electric Generating System, is under construction in the Southern California desert on the Nevada border.

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The Crete project is considerably smaller — 38 megawatts — and is a hybrid solar-oil power plant. BrightSource’s power tower will generate about 32 megawatts with the remaining 16 megawatts produced by fossil fuels. That will allow the power station to run around the clock and smooth out spikes in electricity demand. At peak output, the project will have the capacity to power about 13,000 homes on Crete, BrightSource said.

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During the hot summer tourist season, electricity demand can more than double on sunny Crete, which makes solar power plants a particularly good fit for the island’s electricity grid, according to Keely Wachs, BrightSource’s senior director of corporate communications in Oakland, Calif.

Crete has installed 160 megawatts of wind power with another 60 megawatts planned to come online, Wachs said. The island also has approved the construction of 90 megawatts’ worth of photovoltaic farms. In the coming years, renewable energy should be able to satisfy most of Crete’s electricity demand.

For a relatively small deal, it’s a fairly big deal, given that Europe is home to BrightSource competitors such as Abengoa and Solar Millennium that plan to build massive solar power plants in the desert Southwest of the United States.

If a U.S. solar thermal company can compete on their home turf, then the future may indeed look sunny for California renewable energy startups. 

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