Solar-power ‘farms’ catching on as well

February 10, 2008

Sopogy 10 Megawatt Solar Farm

Solar electrical systems aren’t only being considered for homes and business buildings.

At least three solar farms are being considered for Hawai’i. The James Campbell Co. last month signed an agreement with a Hoku Scientific Inc. unit to plan a Kapolei Sustainable Energy Park that would be capable of generating 1.5 mega watts of power, or enough to power 6,700 homes for a year.

The photovoltaic farm would be the largest such facility on O’ahu, though plans are afoot for an even larger 10-megawatt solar farm on O’ahu using a slightly different technology known as concentrating solar power. Sopogy Inc., a Honolulu-based company, wants to build the facility with the help of up to $35 million of special purpose revenue bonds.

Sopogy already is in the process of planning and building a 1-megawatt solar farm using its technology at the Natural Energy Laboratory of Hawaii Authority on the Big Island.

Instead of employing photovoltaic cells that convert light to electricity, the system makes use of curved mirrors that intensify and focus sun energy on a pipe filled with a fluid. After being heated, the fluid can be used to drive turbines and generate electricity, for use in absorption electricity or steam creation.

While the technology has been around for more than 30 years, Sopogy says it has a design that makes the process more efficient.

“It’s a very interesting approach,” said Darren Kimura, president of Sopogy, which last year attracted more than $9 million in venture capital funding.

“We feel very comfortable with moving forward with a significantly larger project.”

Kimura said he is receiving calls and e-mails on a regular basis asking about the technology, which, unlike photovoltaic, can be used to generate electricity at night by storing the heated fluid during the day for use hours later.

Kimura declined to say where the O’ahu solar farm might be located and said he has been in discussions with Hawaiian Electric Co. about the project.

—Greg Wiles

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