Archive for the ‘Greencon CSP’ Category

Some 150 years after the French mathematician Augustin Mouchot began generating steam from concentrating solar energy, the father of CSP technology would no doubt be delighted to see his prodigy growing up fast. Mouchot’s vision is at last becoming a reality, given the evidence of the past year or so.

Use of solar energy steam generators connected to fairly standard conventional power islands – steam turbine and generator – is a technology that is now well understood and while the various designs of solar collector may present some novelties, CSP installations share many common traits with their fossil-fired cousins. It is perhaps for this reason that CSP has attracted the interest not only of utility companies keen to expand on their renewable portfolios, but also original equipment manufacturers which have traditionally supplied the utility market.

Certainly, one of the clearest signs that the CSP sector is maturing came from the autumn 2009 acquisition of CSP technology company Solel by Germany engineering colossus Siemens.

Siemens acquired the remaining 63% stake in Israel-based Solel Solar Systems which it didn’t own from London-based investment firm Ecofin Ltd. for US$418 million.

The company produces solar parabolic troughs and has been involved in the manufacture and installation of solar fields since its 1992 launch by former Luz International staff, after Luz went bankrupt. Explaining its decision, Siemens said that it is projecting annual double-digit growth rates for CSP plants by 2020 and that it expects the market to reach a volume of more than €20 billion ($27 billion) by then. It is backing its convictions with acquisitions. The Solel deal followed a March 2009 acquisition of a 28% stake in Archimede Solar Energy, an Italian company which manufactures solar receiver tubes.

With a stake in two key parabolic trough-type CSP technologies and considerable expertise in the engineering of the conventional power island, Siemens appears well placed to exploit a growth market. And, in order to support its ambitions, the company has also announced at least one capacity addition in the months following the acquisitions. In January 2010 Archimede, the joint venture between Angelantoni Industrie Spa and Siemens, began construction at a new receiver production facility in the Italian town of Massa Martana.

Starting in early 2011, the plant has a planned annual production capacity of approximately 75,000 solar receiver tubes, which will be ultimately be increased to 140,000 per year. These solar receivers will use molten salt for heat transfer medium instead of oil, which the company says can significantly increase efficiency.

A first commercial plant is currently under construction in Sicily, the Priolo Gargallo project, which will use 1500 solar receivers with molten salt as the heat transfer medium and is expected to go operational early in the summer of 2010.

Peter Löscher, Siemens’ president and CEO, emphasised that the move followed the company’s promise to expand its solar thermal activities earlier in 2009, noting: ‘After the rapid and highly successful expansion of our wind power business, we now want to continue this success story in the solar sector.’ Löscher added, ‘We now have complete control of all solar thermal components.’

No doubt the company’s interest in Solel was in no small part down to a landmark 2007 agreement with Californian utility groupPacific Gas and Electric Company(PG&E), which signed a power purchase agreement for the 553 MW Mojave Solar Park. Planned for construction in California’s Mojave Desert, when operational in 2011 the installation will cover up to 6000 acres (2428 ha) use 1.2 million mirrors and 317 miles (507 km) of vacuum tubing. Over the past 20 years, Solel technology has installed nine operating solar power plants generating 354 MW in the Mojave Desert.

Of course, for PG&E and other utility groups, Solel and Siemens are hardly the only game in town. During 2008 and 2009 PG&E, for example, signed power purchase agreements (PPAs) for more than 1900 MW of CSP capacity with groups including subsidiaries of FPL’s NextEra Energy Resources, Abengoa Solar, NRG Energy and BrightSource Energy, which also has links to Israel’s Luz.

NextEra’s proposed Genesis Solar Energy Project consists of two 125 MW units scheduled to come on line in two phases, the first in 2013 and the second in 2014. It is expected to deliver about 560 GWh annually. Meanwhile, Abengoa Solar’s proposed 250 MW Mojave Solar project is to be located at Harper Lake in San Bernardino County and is expected to deliver more than 600 GWh per year. The project is scheduled to become fully operational by late 2013.

And, under the terms of a series of contracts with BrightSource Energy Inc, PG&E has signed PPAs for seven CSP projects and a total of 1310 MW of capacity since April 2008. Collectively the projects are expected to produce some 3.7 TWh annually. The first of these solar power plants, 100 MW in Ivanpah, California, is scheduled to be operating in 2012 and is expected to produce 246 GWh annually, PG&E says.

In a separate agreement with NRG Energy subsidiary Alpine SunTower LLC, PG&E will also be purchasing output from a 92 MW solar tower installation using technology from eSolar and scheduled for completion in 2012. The project will be located near Lancaster, California, and will produce approximately 192 GWh annually.

The project is part of eSolar and NRG’s previously announced plans to develop up to 500 MW of CSP capacity in California and across the Southwestern United States.

eSolar’s CSP projects feature a proprietary combination of optics and software in a pre-fabricated modular form, each unit with a capacity of 46 MW.

Commenting on the strategy Fong Wan, vice president of energy procurement at PG&E, observed: ‘Solar thermal energy is an especially attractive renewable power source because it is available when needed most in California – during the peak mid-day summer period.’

California law requires each investor-owned utility to increase the share of eligible renewable generating resources in its electric power portfolio to 20% by 2010 and while PG&E has made contractual commitments to have over 20% of its future deliveries from renewables it is not alone.

In 2009, for example, Southern California Edison and BrightSource Energy signed a deal for 1300 MW of CSP installations across seven projects which is expected to deliver some 3.7 TWh per year.

BrightSource Energy will use its proprietary Luz Power Tower 550 (LPT 550) system which uses air-cooling condensers, minimising water consumption, an important factor in the typically arid environments suited to CSP applications.

A different CSP technology comes from Stirling Energy Systems (SES) and Tessera Solar, which unveiled their new dish-engine system at Sandia National Laboratories in Albuquerque, New Mexico, in 2009 and plans commercial-scale deployments beginning in 2010. Each dish can generate up to 25 kW and the proprietary technology will be deployed in two of the world’s largest solar generating projects in Southern California with San Diego Gas & Electric in the Imperial Valley and Southern California Edison in the Mojave Desert, in addition to a previously announced project with CPS Energy in West Texas. Bob Lukefahr, Tessera Solar North America CEO commented: ‘Our projects will break ground next year [2010], with the goal of producing 1000 MW by the end of 2012.’

Beyond California, Florida’s FPL Group and associated companies reportedly remained the market leader at the end of 2009 in terms of installations. The group, which includes – NextEra Energy Resource and Florida Power & Light (FP&L) – is expected to maintain its overall leadership position by combining NextEra’s 147 MW net ownership in California and FP&L’s Martin 75 MW integrated solar combined cycle (ISCC) facility in Florida, which is due to come online in 2010 and which will be the world’s first hybrid solar energy plant combining a solar-thermal field with a combined-cycle natural gas power plant. Construction commenced in December 2008 and the plant, the largest solar thermal installation outside of California, has an annual estimated generation of about 155 GWh.

Over in Europe – where evidence of utility engagement is less obvious via PPAs and directed more into joint project development – Spain is the central focus of CSP activity with a number of installations commissioned or under development. For example, in June 2009, Abengoa Solar’s first high-temperature power tower, Eureka, was unveiled as a platform to test a new type of high temperature receiver. This experimental plant occupies a 16,000 square foot (1486 m2) portion of the Solúcar Platform, a 300 MW solar thermal and photovoltaic solar installation complex scheduled for completion in 2013. Eureka uses 35 heliostats and a 164 foot (15 m) tower which houses the experimental superheating receiver. Capacity of the plant is approximately 2 MW and the facility includes a thermal energy storage system.

With this new development Abengoa Solar now has three solar power towers in operation, two in commercial use, and began operation of the world’s largest solar power tower plant, the 20 MW PS20 installation in April of 2009 at the Solúcar Platform, near Seville in Sanlúcar la Mayor. PS20 consists of a solar field made up of 1255 mirrored heliostats with a surface area of 1291 square feet (119 m2) and a receiver at the top of a 531 foot (131 m) high tower.

In addition to 31 MW already operational, in December 2009 Abengoa entered 13 plants in the CSP pre-allocation registry in Spain with a combined capacity of 650 MW. The new plants, each with a capacity of 50 MW, are grouped into five solar platforms: Solúcar, where construction is being completed on three plants included in the registry; Écija, where two plants are under construction; Ciudad Real, where construction will begin on two plants in 2010; Carpio Complex (Córdoba), where construction of two plants will commence in 2010; and, Extremadura Complex in Logrosán (Cáceres), where four plants will be built in different stages.

CSP market leader Acciona Energia, also of Spain, has received pre-allocation for five CSP projects, totaling 250 MW, with a capacity of 50 MW each: Alvarado (also called ‘La Risca’); Palma del Río I and Palma del Río II (in Andalusia), and Orellana and Majadas (in Extremadura). The 250 MW have been included in Phase 1 of the four established by the Spanish Cabinet in November 2009, which means that the facilities can enter service as soon as their construction is completed. They represent 28% of the CSP capacity preallocation in this first phase and 11% of the total preallocated capacity.

The Solúcar Platform, which features a research and development area that is building several demonstration plants for new technologies, contains installations employing practically every type of solar technology available, whether in commercial use or under demonstration. However, Abengoa is also working on a similar development in Aurora, Colorado known as the Solar Technology Acceleration Center (SolarTAC), which announced its start-up in October 2009. Abengoa Solar, one of the six developers of SolarTAC, will set up a parabolic trough collector experimental site linked to an assembly plant located within the facility for testing and validating the company’s new designs. The Electric Power Research Institute (EPRI), the US National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL), the City of Aurora, the Colorado Renewable Energy Laboratory, the US Midwest Research Institute (MRI), SunEdison and Xcel Energy have also signed up to join SolarTAC.

Elsewhere in Europe, alongside Abengoa, other players include Schott Solar AG, which significantly expanded its CSP production capacity to 400 MWe, compared with the previous year’s 200 MWe, in 2008/2009. Schott says It has 1 GWe of CSP capacity planned.

And, at January’s World Future Energy Summit in Abu Dhabi, Ferrostaal AG announced an order for the Andasol 3 parabolic trough CSP plant in southern Spain. Another CSP plant is also planned, the parabolic trough Ibersol in Extremadura, which like Andasol 3, is scheduled to have a capacity of 50 MW and to be completed in 2013. Andasol 3 is slated to begin supplying power in 2011. Both Andasol 1 and Andasol 2, each of which has an output of around 50 MW, have already been connected to the power grid and started test operation. And, like Andasol 1 and 2, Andasol 3 will have a thermal storage which will enable power to be generated reliably for up to eight hours at night or in cloudy weather. Ferrostaal is implementing Andasol 3 together with RWE Innogy, RheinEnergie, Solar Millennium and Stadtwerke München (Munich City Utilities).

Prof. Fritz Vahrenholt, chairman of RWE Innogy said: ‘Parabolic trough technology sets new benchmarks for solar electricity generation. It can be deployed on a large scale and generates electricity in a reliable and grid-friendly way even after sunset thanks to a huge molten salt thermal storage system. This allows the plant to generate electricity for almost twice the amount of hours as a solar power plant without the storage system. For us, this investment is therefore a further important step toward a sustainable and safe method of providing energy on the basis of renewable energies.’

Market Expectations

While still limited in terms of MW installed, CSP is clearly attracting considerable interest. According to EER’s January 2010 Power Advisory analysis – see figures 1 and 2 shown on page 70 and 71 – in 2009, CSP additions jumped 26% from the 2008 total of some 482 MW to 606 MW.

At the start of 2009, with around 480 MW of CSP installed globally and another 800 MW under construction in Spain, the CSP industry was gaining momentum – yet significant permitting and regulatory hurdles remain. Now, with close to 130 projects under development in Spain and over 50 projects in the US pipeline, the CSP sector is expected to demand as much as US$80 billion of investment over the next decade. And, though the market will be led by financially-sound first-movers with CSP plants under construction, a host of new entrants are now vying for CSP market share along the value chain.

In Europe Acciona Energía and Iberdrola Renovables added 50 MW each to their renewable portfolios in 2009. However, Iberdrola’s omission from Spain’s ‘pre-registration’ list indicates that it has abandoned a previously announced 600 MW Spanish pipeline, EER says. Acciona is expected, nonetheless, to add another 100 MW and 50 MW in 2010 and 2011, respectively

Elsewhere in Spain, independent power producers (IPPs) Abengoa Solar, Grupo Samca, and ACS Cobra are scheduled to add 100 MW each in 2010, collectively some 44% of total annual additions for 2010, placing them into the top five of EER’s CSP ownership rankings.

By the end of 2010, 59% of the 1292 MW of global installed capacity will be in Spain, compared to 30% at year-end 2008, overshadowing the US market’s projected total installed capacity of 493 MW by year-end 2010, EER forecasts.

In 2010, the US market is expected limited to FP&L’s 75 MW ISCC project, Chevron’s 29 MW enhanced oil recovery system by BrightSource in Coalinga, California, and two demonstration systems – Xcel Energy’s 4 MW ISCC and Tessera Solar’s 1.5 MW facility.

Parabolic trough technology leads, and is forecast to represent more than 93% of global installations, including 125 MW of ISCC applications in Algeria, Morocco, Italy, and the US by the end of 2010. However, in 2010 – with eSolar’s 5 MW direct steam-generating demonstration facility and 15 MW planned for 2010 by licensee ACME Energy in India – central receiver technology will receive a minimal boost in 2010.

David Appleyard is associate editor of Renewable Energy World.

Is India on the brink of becoming a solar superpower?

Not quite yet. But, significantly, the government is pondering a massive energy transition that could deliver 20,000 MW of solar power by 2020 and 200,000 MW by 2050, according to a long-awaited draft strategy leaked to The Hindu.

The 200,000 MW goal is 30 percent more than India’s current installed power generation capacity across all energy sectors, which stands at nearly 150,000 MW. Solar makes up just 3 MW of that.

If the government’s “National Solar Mission” moves forward, it would be the most ambitious solar scheme of any nation, by far. At the very least, it deserves strong consideration.

India, the world’s sixth largest energy consumer, is in dire need of a ramp up of generation capacity. By 2020, the nation will require 400,000 MW of electricity. Currently, efforts are in the works to make good on the government’s pledge of “Power for All by 2012,” which promises to provide electricity to all rural households. Just fulfilling that would require 50,000 MW of additional capacity over the next three years.

The fact that India must build, and not rebuild, its entire energy infrastructure puts it in a unique position to establish a green economy. And solar seems a no-brainer choice to focus its investments.

Its potential in India is off the charts. With 250 to 300 clear sunny days a year, India’s solar resource capacity is a thousand times greater than the nation’s likely electricity demand by 2015.

Tapping a tiny fraction of that could turn India into a global renewables powerhouse, and an engine for growth and green jobs.

The government’s solar mission would be implemented in three phases. Phase one, from 2009-2012, would target 1,000 MW of new capacity. From 2012 and 2017, the nation would focus on developing utility-scale concentrating solar plants to accelerate the ramp up. Finally, between 2017 and 2020, the aim would be grid parity, the point at which solar becomes as cheap as fossil fuels, to get to the 20,000 MW mark. By 2050, the full infrastructure would be in place.

So what would it cost? Around $18 to $22 billion over 30 years, according to The Hindu.

What a bargain – and a giant underestimate.

A March 2009 Greenpeace report, which analyzed a broader energy scenario, found that wealthy nations could help enable a massive renewable energy uptake in India by 2030 through an international Feed-in Tariff Support Mechanism. Specifically, for a cost of $195 billion in international financing spread out over 20 years (not including capital costs), India could add 310,000 MW of new renewable energy capacity. Around 45 percent of that would come from solar.

A December 2007 report by the The Energy and Resources Institute (TERI) concluded that it would cost $5.4 trillion for India to get to a 75 percent “renewables” share, includng nuclear.

Whatever the costs, most of it will be in up-front investments. As Sven Teske, author of the Greenpeace report, told the WorldWatch Institute:

“Over 30 years, India would make money.”

And the truth is, any delays in realizing a big solar vision are not merely about cash but rather political will, he said. In fact:

“If India leveraged 1 paise, or one-hundredth of a rupee, on every kilowatt hour generated by coal-fired utilities, we would have enough money to implement all renewables here in India.”

India is well known for rhetoric over its renewable pledges. There’s still a scarcity of real targets and goals in its vague climate plans, and you won’t find dollar commitments. V. Subramanian, who CEO of India’s Wind Energy Association, explained why:

“The government of India does not currently have the machinery to implement such a strategy at a national level. This has to be done by state governments, and as yet the engagement between the two on this is not strong.”

What will it take to get this solar mission accomplished?

Source: Solve Climate Blog

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What is the best evidence that concentrated solar thermal power (CSP) aka solar baseload is indeed a core climate solution with big near-term — and very big medium-term — promise?  One of the country’s biggest companies, Lockheed-Martin, with 2008 sales of $42.7 billion, has jumped into the race to build the biggest CSP plant with thermal storage.

The CSP market was already exploding (see “World’s largest solar plant with thermal storage to be built in Arizona — total of 8500 MW of this core climate solution planned for 2014 in U.S. alone“).  Now big players are getting on board, as Phoenix’s East Valley Tribune reports:


Arizona Public Service, Starwood Energy Group Global and Lockheed Martin announced plans Friday to build one of the world’s largest solar plants in the Harquahala Valley about 75 miles west of Phoenix.

The 290-megawatt plant will produce enough electricity to power more than 73,000 homes when it is completed in 2013, the developers said,

Called Starwood Solar I, the plant will be financed and owned by an affiliate of Starwood Energy and built and operated by Lockheed Martin. APS has agreed to take all of the electricity generated at the plant for distribution to its customers.

The plant will include 3,500 parabolic mirrors that will focus the sun’s heat onto tubes containing a heat-transfer fluid. The hot fluid will convert water into steam that will turn the plant’s turbines to generate electricity.

The Starwood plant is the second major solar project spurred by APS. In February 2008 the company signed an agreement with Abengoa Solar of Spain to purchase power from a 280-megawatt plant the Spanish company plans to build by 2011 at Gila Bend. But Abengoa has had trouble lining up financing for that project, and construction has not yet started.

APS is required by the Arizona Corporation Commission to obtain 15 percent of its electricity from renewable sources by 2025. The utility said it will be ahead of schedule to meet that requirement if Solana and Starwood are built.

First, I hope that the Department of Energy is going to use its loan program to help CSP companies like Abengoa get financing for CSP during this credit crunch (see “First Energy Department loan guarantee goes to … a solar manufacturer“).

But that is precisely why it is such a big deal for a company like Lockheed-Martin to enter this space.  They bring credibility and confidence to potential financiers who might otherwise worry about the long-term viability of some relatively new and relatively small solar company.

And in case you were wondering who this mysterious Starwood Energy Group is, they are “a private equity investment firm based in Greenwich, CT, that specializes in energy infrastructure investments.”  Apparently they have deep pockets:  “Founded in 2005, Starwood Energy has committed to seven transactions representing nearly $4.9 billion in enterprise value.”  Yes, this is the Starwood in Starwood hotels — the Chairman and CEO, Barry Sternlicht was “was Chairman & CEO of Starwood Hotels & Resorts Worldwide, Inc., a company he founded in 1995.”  Gizmag reports that “Principals at Starwood Energy and its affiliates have developed or acquired 37 power generation and transmission projects to date, valued at more than USD$12 billion.”  Be interested to know who those “affiliates” are, since it looks like these folks are going to be serious investors in clean energy.

When big players enter the market, there is the real prospect for lower financing and transaction and engineering costs.

The Solar I concentrating solar plant will have 3,500  parabolic mirrors trapping the sun's energy Significantly, this plant will have thermal storage:

Solar I will be designed and built by aeronautics giant Lockheed Martin on about 1,900 acres, using a concentrating solar power system. This use mirrors and tracking systems to focus a large area of sunlight into a small beam. Solar I will have 3,500 parabolic mirrors to capture the sun’s rays. Heat captured by the mirrors and transferred will be used to convert water into steam. Just like a traditional power plant, the steam is then used to drive the plant’s turbines to create electricity. By storing energy captured during the day, up to six hours of back-up power will be available in a molten salt solution.

The key point is that the easiest way to deal with the intermittency of the sun is cheap storage — and thermal storage is much cheaper and has a much higher round-trip efficiency than electric storage.  The ability to provide power reliably throughout the day and evening in key locations around the world (including China and India) is why CSP delivers 3 of the 12 – 14 wedges needed for “the full global warming solution.”

Kudos to Lockheed-Martin for getting onboard this fast-moving train.

Source: Climate Progress Blog

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One of oldest forms of energy used by humans — sunlight concentrated by mirrors — is poised to make an astonishing comeback. I believe it will be the most important form of carbon-free power in the 21st century. That’s because it’s the only form of clean electricity that can meet all the demanding requirements of this century.

Certainly we will need many different technologies to stop global warming. They include electric cars and plug-in hybrids, wind turbines and solar photovoltaics, which use sunlight to make electricity from solid-state materials like silicon semiconductors. Yet after speaking with energy experts and seeing countless presentations on all forms of clean power, I believe the one technology closest to being a silver bullet for global warming is the other solar power: solar thermal electric, which concentrates the sun’s rays to heat a fluid that drives an electric generator. It is the best source of clean energy to replace coal and sustain economic development. I bet that it will deliver more power every year this century than coal with carbon capture and storage — for much less money and with far less environmental damage.

Clearly, the world needs a massive amount of carbon-free electricity by 2050 to stabilize greenhouse gas emissions. The industrialized countries need to cut their carbon dioxide emissions from electricity generation by more than 80 percent in four decades. Developing countries need to find a way to raise living standards without increasing electricity emissions in the short term, and then reduce those emissions sharply. And, over the next few decades, the world needs to switch to a ground transportation system whose primary fuel is clean electricity

This electricity must meet a number of important criteria. It must be affordable: New electricity generation should cost at most about 10 cents per kilowatt hour, a price that would probably beat nuclear power and would certainly beat coal with carbon capture and storage, if the latter even proves practical on a large scale. The electricity cannot be intermittent and hard to store, as is energy from wind power and solar photovoltaics. We need power that either stays constant day and night or, even better, matches electricity demand, which typically rises in the morning, peaks in the late afternoon, and lasts late into the evening.

This carbon-free electricity must provide thousands of gigawatts of power and make use of a low-cost fuel that has huge reserves accessible to both industrialized and developing countries. It should not make use of much freshwater or arable land, which are likely to be scarce in a climate-changed world with 3 billion more people.

Solar electric thermal, also known as concentrating solar power (CSP), meets all these criteria. A technology that has the beauty of simplicity, it has proved effective for generations. As the Web site of CSP company Ausra illustrates, solar thermal has a long and fascinating history.

Back around 700 B.C., the Chinese first used “burning mirrors” to ignite firewood. In 230 B.C., a colleague of Archimedes built a parabolic mirror, which focuses the sun’s rays to a single point, also better for starting fires. Around 212 B.C., Archimedes supposedly had Greek soldiers use their bronze shields to concentrate the sunlight on Roman ships and set them on fire.

In the 15th century, the Italians used burning mirrors to solder copper sections of the Santa Maria del Fiore cathedral. Leonardo da Vinci’s notebooks contain many designs for solar concentrators, including some for industrial purposes, because he worried about the destruction of the earth’s vast forests in humanity’s search for fuel.

In the 1860s and 1870s, Augustin Mouchot built the first dish-shaped reflector that ran a heat engine, and he used solar thermal to heat a boiler that ran an ice maker. His assistant demonstrated a printing press running on concentrated solar. But all this work came to naught because of the general lack of direct sunlight in France and the abundance of cheap coal, which became a primary energy source for the Industrial Revolution.

A Swedish immigrant to America, John Ericsson, developed a motor driven by parabolic trough mirrors in 1870. In 1909, H.E. Wilsie added a critical component, a system for storing solar energy for when the sun did not shine. Heat is much easier to store than electricity, a fact that gives CSP a crucial — maybe the crucial — advantage over wind and solar photovoltaics.

In 1913, an American, Frank Shuman, installed a 55-kilowatt CSP water-pumping station using parabolic mirrors in Meadi, Egypt. The mirrors focused the sun on tubes whose heated fluid ran an engine to make electricity. This was perhaps the first commercial CSP plant. But it was shut down at the start of WWI, and, as Ausra notes, “the plant was never restarted because of the discovery of cheap oil in the Middle East.”

In the 1960s, the Italians developed two of the key CSP designs used today. The first uses a linear mirror to focus the light on a long tube, allowing the mirrors to be flat, cheaper to build and less exposed to the wind. In the second, called a power tower, many mirrors move in two dimensions, focusing on a central tower that holds the engine.

The 1970s oil shocks led to the first commercial developer of U.S. solar thermal electric projects, Luz International. The company built and sold nine solar plants in California’s Mojave Desert. The plants circulated oil in pipes, heating it to 700 degrees with long parabolic mirrors; the oil boiled water to drive a steam turbine. Although the technology functioned well, Luz was forced to file for bankruptcy in 1991. The reasons, detailed in this Sandia report, included uncertainty in the market, a delay of federal and state tax breaks, and the lack of economic value derived from environmental benefits. 

Keep it Green 



Concentrating solar power (CSP) plants could meet 7 percent of the world’s power needs by 2030 and 25 percent by 2050, according to a new report by Greenpeace, the European Solar Thermal Electricity Association and the International Energy Agency.

Such systems currently make up just 430 megawatts of generation capacity, or less than one half of one percent of electricity needs worldwide.

CSP “is about to step out of the shadow of other renewable technologies and can establish itself as the third biggest player in the sustainable power generation industry,” the report’s authors write.

If that giant leap in capacity happens, they say, the sector would employ 2 million people in the next four decades and save 2.1 billion tons of global warming emissions in 2050.

Here’s a glance at what it would take:

  • Long-term and stable feed-in tariffs that would help to overcome the solar cost disadvantage.
  • Renewable Portfolio Standards that would specifically apply to CSP.
  • Loan guarantees from banks and global environmental programs that would provide greater access to investment dollars.
  • Rapid increase of new grid capacity (especially via High Voltage Direct Current) to export solar power from CSP plants to industrial countries and emerging economies.
  • Investment of 21 billion euros a year by 2015 and 174 billion a year by 2050.


For Europe in particular, the report recommends engagement with North Africa, which has an “unlimited” solar resource that could power Europe by 2050 for a cost of $400 billion over 30 years. It’s a promising project that is clearly not yet on the horizon.

Investment in the CSP sector passed the $1 billion mark in 2008, according to the analysis. In 2009, it is expected to exceed $2.8 billion. Most of the installations so far are in Spain and the United States.

CSP uses vast solar mirrors that concentrate the sun’s rays to temperatures of between 750 to 1,800 degrees Fahrenheit to drive steam turbines. The DESERTEC foundation claims that deploying a CSP supergrid on a stretch of desert 186 miles on each side could technically power the whole world.

The good news is the technology is proven. The first large-scale commercial CSP stations were built in California’s Mojave Desert some 25 years ago. Even better is that utility-scale installations are “now economically viable,” the report states.

High initial investment is required for new CSP plants. But, over the entire lifecycle of the plant, 80 percent of the cost is from construction and associated debt, and only 20 percent comes from operation. In fact, the report notes that the experiences with CSP plants constructed in California between 1984 and 1991 show that:

“Once the plant has been paid for, in 25 or 30 years, only operating costs, which are currently about 3 cents/kWh, remain and the electricity is cheaper than any competition; comparable only to long-written-off hydropower plants.”

Bottom line, the report says: 

“Only when funds are available without high-risk surcharges can solar thermal power plant technology become competitive with medium-load fossil-fuel power plants.”

True, investment funds and market incentives are vital to make CSP as cheap as coal. But the chances of these happening are dependent on something else that’s desperately needed and sorely lacking: the political will to carry out the CSP solar vision. 

Source: Solve Climate Change Blog 

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