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Exclusive: A solar steam project kicks off

A solar-powered boiler and storage unit that is decarbonizing Oberon Fuel's clean fuel production in Brawley, Calif.

A solar-powered boiler and steam storage unit developed by Sunvapor and installed at the site of Oberon Fuels plant in Brawley, Calif. Photo: Courtesy of Oberon Fuels

An unusual project that uses solar-powered steam and storage to decarbonize clean fuel production has started operating at a site in Southern California.

Why it matters: The companies say the financing deal behind the project represents the first industrial solar steam power purchase agreement, which could help the tech become more mainstream.

Driving the news: Renewable fuels maker Oberon Fuels and solar steam company Sunvapor have just turned on the solar steam and storage system at Oberon's facility in Brawley, Calif., near San Diego.

  • Oberon uses the solar-powered steam to heat the reaction needed to produce its clean fuel, replacing natural gas-powered steam. The process lowers the carbon footprint of the clean fuel.
  • The demonstration project, which is supported by the Department of Energy, also uses compressed steam as storage to be able to generate the needed heat when the sun goes down.
  • The power purchase agreement enabled Oberon to avoid the upfront capital costs required to deploy the system.

Zoom in: Sunvapor has also deployed its solar thermal boilers for an almond processor in Southern California.

The big picture: Power purchase agreements (PPAs) are standard deals in the solar panel project world.

  • However, the market for solar-powered industrial heat is just emerging, partly driven by industrial decarbonization incentives available in the Inflation Reduction Act.
  • A solar industrial heat PPA could help the nascent sector become more mainstream and grow as potential customers see they can avoid upfront capex costs.

Bottom line: It's still early days for solar industrial steam, but adopting attractive financing is a major step.

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