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HOUSTON (Reuters) - The Electric Power Research Institute said on Wednesday it will launch a project to study the feasibility of "concentrating" solar power to increase its efficiency at the request of a number of western U.S. electric utilities.
Unlike conventional flat-plate solar or photovoltaic panels, concentrating solar power uses reflectors to generate electricity more efficiently and in larger amounts, EPRI said in a release. The institute said the project will study the feasibility of building a solar power plant in the 50- to 500-megawatt range, much larger than traditional solar installations.
The industry research group said the United States has four such utility-size solar plants: one in Nevada and three in California.
EPRI said the solar project was initiated by New Mexico-based PNM Resources Inc. which is interested in building such a solar facility in New Mexico by 2010. PNM Chief Executive Jeffry Sterba is the current EPRI chairman.
Other utilities that will participate in the study's first phase include Sempra Energy's San Diego Gas & Electric Co. unit, Edison International's Southern California Edison utility, Tri-State Generation and Transmission Association and Xcel Energy. El Paso Electric has also expressed interest in the project, EPRI said.
The first phase of the project will provide expertise and technical analysis to help utilities make decisions about concentrated solar technology through formation of a team of utility and solar experts.
The first phase also will include a feasibility assessment to examine the site, technological, economic and regulatory issues related to developing a solar plant in the 50- to 500-MW range, EPRI said.
The study is expected to be finished by late 2007 when participants will decide whether to move to a second phase covering engineering design and permitting issues. Construction would occur in the third phase, EPRI said.