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Sopogy to work with Avista on clean energy

August 17, 2007

A Honolulu-based solar-energy firm is expected to be the second tenant at Avista Utilities’ test bed for clean energy sources.

Sopogy Inc. plans to use the Rathdrum facility to assess its concentrated solar power technology on the mainland, said Jim Maskrey, vice president of business development and sales.

“We really want to demonstrate the favorability of the area for concentrating solar,” Maskrey said.

Like some other concentrated solar systems, two-year-old Sopogy’s technology uses troughs outfitted with highly polished mirrors to focus sunlight on tubes containing a fluid, heating it for use in a process to create steam-generated electricity. Such systems traditionally have been large and set in desert environments, Maskrey said, but Sopogy claims its SopoNova product is smaller and more rugged.

And the system could be set up to store energy as heat for use at peak times or when the sun isn’t shining, he said.

Sopogy initially will test the tracking system, but a later phase should generate a maximum of about 50 kilowatts of power at any given time, he said. The company hopes to break ground in about a month.

Avista and Sopogy should sign an agreement Monday, said Hugh Imhof, utility spokesman.

Avista and other utilities are feeling the squeeze of recent state renewable-energy mandates. A voter initiative passed last year requires Avista to use 3 percent renewable by 2012 and 15 percent by 2020. About two dozen other states, including Hawaii, had similar requirements as of this month, according to the Pew Center on Global Climate Change.

In June, San Francisco-based startup GreenVolts Inc. unveiled plans to install a roughly 2.4-kilowatt sun-tracking solar array at the site. GreenVolts’ system, made by Ecolite Manufacturing Co. of Spokane Valley, uses photovoltaic cells to turn sunlight into electricity.

While the two types of concentrated solar may have different applications, Maskrey said, the cost of Sopogy’s system should be lower than photovoltaic. He declined to give specific price information.

“There is going to be a little bit of overlap, but there’s going to be a lot more differentiation between us where the market will adapt to what it is we’re delivering,” he said.

The Sopogy system, which will be aligned north-south and pivot to track the sun, may require six or seven acres per megawatt of power generated, Maskrey said. It also can be used for agricultural drying, air conditioning and desalinization, he said.

Heat-transfer oil piped through the system could be heated to 250 to 500 degrees Fahrenheit, Maskrey said.

Sopogy is a spinoff of Energy Laboratories, a private energy-concept incubator in Hawaii. The firm has received about $3 million in a round of venture capital funding and has 11 full-time employees, Maskrey said.

The state of Hawaii this summer approved Sopogy for $10 million in revenue bonds to help it design, build and operate a large-scale solar farm there.

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