Chevron is testing several bold new solar technologies under the banner of Project Brightfield. Drawn from 19 companies, these photovoltaic systems, if proven effective, could soon be backed and proliferated by the oil and gas giant. The project is based on an old Chevron oil refinery site in Bakersfield, Calif., where the company has installed 7,700 solar panels across 18 acres. All told, this facility will generate 740 kilowatts of electricity — some used to power neighboring oil operations, some fed into the region’s grid. The seven companies were chosen from a pool of 180 solar companies. Six of them specialize in thin-film solar panels. Thin film is of particular interest because it doesn’t use nearly as much expensive silicon — lowering costs for manufacturers and, ultimately, end users (Chevron, in this instance).
Abound Solar, MiaSolé (one of the biggest participants), Schuco, Showa Shell subsidiary Solar Frontier, Sharp and Q-Cells subsidiary Solibro are represented. Bringing in German and Japanese photovoltaic brands, Chevron is obviously interested in taking a global approach to its solar challenges. Innovalight, the seventh company, is unique among this picks — known for its so-called “solar-ink.” It can actually print solar modules onto conductive surfaces, also sparing silicon, and making a diversity of new applications possible.
Project Brightfield is slated to last three years — at the end of which, Chevron will decide which of the technologies is worth integrating into its facilities worldwide. During the trial itself, participating companies will be able to access data about how their technology is performing under different conditions, and how they stack up next to competitors and national averages. This is the second time Chevron has re-purposed one of its refinery sites to foster renewable energy development. It also allowed 11 wind turbines to be installed on a former Texaco refinery site in Wyoming. It is also looking to do the same in the future, developing a 1-megawatt concentrating solar array at a Chevron mining site in new Mexico by the end of this year.
The oil and gas giant is really covering its bases when it comes to solar technology — working on both sides of the emerging divide between standard photovoltaics and solar-thermal installations. It is also a major investor in BrightSource Energy, an Oakland, Calif. company building 2,600-megawatts worth of solar-thermal power plants in California.