A new kind of hybrid: Solar and geothermal working together in Nevada

Meet the hybrid geothermal-solar plant -- a new spin on an old idea that could help utilities move away from fossil fuel-power plants.

Enel Green Power North America is already tapping into Nevada's plentiful geothermal energy source. So it makes perfect sense to take advantage of the desert state's abundant sun as well.  Enter the hybrid geothermal-solar plant -- a new spin on an old idea that could help utilities move away from coal and natural gas-power plants in certain regions.

The Achilles heel of solar and wind power is its variability. When the sun sets or the wind stops blowing, renewable power sources drop off, making it difficult to maintain a steady electricity supply. Co-generating power plants solve the variability problem by combining a renewable energy source (solar and wind for example) with a conventional fossil fuel like natural gas or coal. The fossil fuel provides the base load power and is used when the renewable source isn't avaibable. In other words, when the sun sets and solar power is no longer being generated, the natural gas source will step in to fill the void.

GE has pushed the bounds of the conventional co-generation power plant and introduced last spring a jet engine-inspired model that can transition rapidly between natural gas and renewable energy. But Enel's hybrid is the first to combine two renewable energy sources. Check out Enel's rendering of the project below.

The hybrid power plant received final regulatory approval earlier this month. And construction is already underway. Enel Green Power North American President Francesco Venturini and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid kicked off the 4th annual National Clean Energy Summit in Las Vegas on Tuesday with the construction announcement, the Las Vegas Sun reported.

The solar photovoltaic panels will be built at Enel's Stillwater Geothermal Plant in northern Nevada. The solar project will generate 24 megawatts of additional energy, which will be sold to NV Energy.

Until energy storage tech improves the hybrid renewable co-generation concept won't take off everywhere. But it could prove popular in certain regions that have a stable energy source like geothermal or even hydroelectric and another renewable option such as solar or wind.

Photo: Flickr user Living off the Grid

This post was originally published on Smartplanet.com