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Cap And Trade Concentrating solar plants worldwide

Published on June 14th, 2013 | by Silvio Marcacci

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Is Concentrating Solar Power The Technology That Saves Humanity?

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June 14th, 2013 by  

Concentrating solar power (CSP) could unlock our clean energy future and boost solar from an intermittent contributor to a baseload generator – if we clear the regulatory, technological, and financial hurdles standing in the way.

Concentrating solar power worldwide

Concentrating solar plants worldwide graphic via Center for American Progress

Fulfilling the Promise of Concentrating Solar Power,” a new white paper from the Center for American Progress (CAP), estimates CSP could add up to 16 gigawatts of baseload power globally within a few years, with a larger return on investment and smaller environmental impact than most other energy technologies.

However, significant challenges face this potential panacea for energy and climate concerns. Good thing, then that CAP’s paper outlines low-cost policy solutions to reduce financial risk, promote investment, and drive innovation in CSP technology.

Could Concentrating Solar Power Save Humanity?

CSP technology has been called “the technology that will save humanity.” While that may be a grand statement, CSP could meet up to 7% of the world’s projected electricity needs in 2030, and 25% by 2050, according to CAP.

California’s SEGS power plants were the first to demonstrate utility-scale CSP power starting in the 1980’s, and currently produce 310 megawatts (MW) of electricity at 5.57 cents per kilowatt hour (kWh) – enough to cheaply power 250,000 homes. In addition, Arizona’s Solana plant and California’s Ivanpah project will soon come online and produce more than 600MW of reliable power.

SEGS solar thermal plant

SEGS solar power plant image via Shutterstock

Unlike solar photovoltaic or wind generation, CSP electricity is generated by heat, meaning excess output can be stored for later use and relied upon by grid operators without intermittency concerns. Storing heat energy is also 20 to 100 times more cost-effective than storing electricity in batteries, with energy-conversion efficiencies already exceeding 90%

Much More Than Just An Intermittent Renewable

These attributes mean the 2.5GW of electricity currently generated worldwide by CSP and 2GW under construction can be viewed through the same energy-production lens as fossil fuel generation.

When environmental and economic benefits are added, CSP’s superiority over fossil fuels and other renewables really come into focus. CAP notes that CSP plant components are largely sourced from common materials like steel and glass, unlike solar PV panels, which depend upon rare earths and volatile global supply chains.

CSP also uses less land per MW than any other form of renewable energy, producing 1.5 to 3 times more power per acre than solar PV, and the same amount of land as fossil-fuel generation when mining and production requirements enter the equation.

A Green Economy Kickstarter

Combining free and abundant power from the sun with energy storage also boosts CSP’s economic outlook. A report from the National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL) estimates investing in 100MW of CSP generates 4,000 job years and $628 million in economic output – compared to 330 job years and $47 million in economic output for an identical investment in natural gas.

CSP is also cheaper than coal when considering emissions. A conservative estimate predicts by 2015, sequestering 1 metric ton of carbon dioxide from a coal plan will be three times more expensive than generating the same amount of electricity from CSP.

Falling cost of concentrating solar power

Falling cost of concentrating solar power graphic via Center for American Progress

These attributes are already making CSP electricity cheaper than fossil fuels. CAP notes that CSP power in California is as low as 12 cents per kilowatt-hour (kWh) compared to 19 cents per kWh for natural gas, and NREL estimates every 1% of efficiency improvement reduces CSP costs 7% No wonder a 70MW CSP array has been added to an existing Florida natural gas power plant to boost production and environmental performance.

This Is Why We Can’t Have Nice Things

So CSP sounds great, and about to take over our energy system, right? Not exactly, says the white paper. Significant market and regulatory challenges still prevent the technology from reaching full potential, including:

  1. Significant financing costs created by investor risk perception which drives higher loan interest rates.
  2. Unnecessary exposure to price volatility via fossil fuels driving regional electricity markets.
  3. Undervalued climate benefits due to the lack of a national price on carbon.
  4. Higher upfront capital costs than fossil fuel projects.
  5. Complex review process stemming from overlapping regulatory authorities.
  6. Lack of sufficient transmission access for potential projects.

Haven’t I Heard These Before?

The obstacles facing CSP aren’t new; in fact they’re similar to many of the energy problems we face today. What’s different, however, is the presence of multiple realistic solutions.

Concentrating solar power cost reductions

Concentrating solar power cost reductions graphic via Center for American Progress

CAP highlights a number of low-cost policy fixes that could boost CSP without major system overhauls, including:

  1. Maintaining existing federal policies like loan guarantees, regulatory fast tracking, research and development programs at national labs, manufacturing and investment tax credits, and state-level policies like net metering and renewable energy standards.
  2. Establishing an independent clean energy deployment bank.
  3. Implementing feed-in tariffs that guarantee power prices for a set period of time
  4. Reinstating DOE’s loan guarantee program for CSP projects.
  5. Establishing a price on carbon through cap and trade or carbon tax.
  6. Leveling the tax-break playing field for CSP and fossil fuel.
  7. Guaranteeing transmission interconnections for solar projects on public lands.
  8. Creating an interagency regulatory review body for solar power projects

Add it all up, and we’ve identified a proven source of baseload power that could meet a massive portion of our electricity needs, with some of the smallest operational costs and environmental impacts of any energy technology. But, since Congress stands in the way, maybe we shouldn’t hold our breath.

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About the Author

Silvio is Principal at Marcacci Communications, a full-service clean energy and climate-focused public relations company based in Washington, D.C.



  • fireofenergy

    The object is to develop the least expensive, most abundant and safe carbon free source. CSP using molten salts as heat storage is the best renewable energy option and MSR using molten salt as a meltdown proof fission reactor is the best overall option since fission is on the order of 1,000,000x as energy dense as coal.

    Either way, we still need to invest in the advanced machine automation necessary for EV batteries which should eventually lead to efficient battery storage for wind. But many competing automated machine lines (or advanced 3d printers) will be required to ultimately make use of the automation, in order to cut out the high profit margins on sooooo many billions of little parts (covering thousands of square miles of desert).

  • Robert Sultani

    This article is unfortunately an American Article and it isnt congress that blocking this. it is energy companies who are in their back pockets, preventing progress out of greed. It is sad and disappointing that we as pioneers are not the benefactors of our own ingenuity. Look on the map how many projects outside of the USA? What a joke! Shame on our Bullsh…. system

  • alpha2actual

    “There is an impression that we have a choice between fossil fuels and clean energy technologies such as solar cells and wind turbines. That choice is an illusion. Alternative energy technologies rely on fossil fuels through every stage of their life. Alternative energy technologies rely on fossil fuels for mining operations, fabrication plants, installation, ongoing maintenance and decommissioning. Also, due to the irregular output of wind and solar, these technologies require fossil fuel plants to be running alongside them at all times. Most significantly, alternative energy financing relies on the kind of growth that fossil fuels drive.”

    “Since wind and sunlight are free, why are wind and solar power so expensive? Solar and wind energy technologies should be very cheap – much cheaper than fossil fuels.

    But they are not cheap at all. Even with massive subsidies, we see firms going bankrupt trying to sell them. And then we still have to figure in the cost of building batteries, redundant power plants or other infrastructure that arises from their low quality intermittent energy. Finally, we have to consider the mining, health, pollution and waste problems of renewable technologies. For example, we are now learning that the solar cell industry is one of the fastest growing emitters of virulent greenhouse gases such as sulfur hexafluoride, which has a global warming potential 23,000 times higher than CO2, according to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC).”

    • Bob_Wallace

      Wrong. We now have enough solar panels feeding the grid that they are producing as much electricity as we use to manufacture solar panels. We passed that point long ago with wind turbines.

      “…these technologies require fossil fuel plants to be running alongside them at all times”

      Factually incorrect. When renewables are producing we turn off fossil fuel plants.

      “Solar and wind energy technologies should be very cheap – much cheaper than fossil fuels.”

      Actually, they are. You do understand that the cost of burning coal costs us about a billion dollars per day in taxpayer dollars, don’t you? That makes coal our most expensive electricity.

      Natural gas is cheaper than solar but that is only a temporary condition.

      “we are now learning that the solar cell industry is one of the fastest growing emitters of virulent greenhouse gases”

      And that’s just BS. Those gases are contained in the manufacturing process and not released into the atmosphere. The greenhouse gases that are screwing us come from fossil fuels.

  • alpha2actual

    There is an excellent article from the November 11, 2011 New York Times Science and Environment section entitled “A Gold Rush of Subsidies in Clean Energy Search” that describes in great detail the “financials” of a large commercial solar project in California. This isn’t a concentrated solar project.

    The money quote,

    P.G.& E., and ultimately its electric customers, will pay NRG $150 to $180 a megawatt-hour… that was about 50 percent more than the expected market cost of electricity in California from a newly built gas-powered plant. While neither state regulators nor the companies will divulge all the details, the extra cost to ratepayers amounts to a $462 million subsidy, according to Booz, which calculated the present value of the higher rates over the life of the contracts.

    • Bob_Wallace

      Concentrated solar is an developing technology. It is some distance from being able to produce power at a competitive rate. And it might not.

      But if we don’t invest some money to build a few plants, learn how to build them better and cheaper, then we may miss out on a useful technology.

      What we commonly see with new technologies is that they start expensive and work their way to affordable, even cheap.

      Of course not all the money we spend to bring new technologies pays off. Look at the waste of investment in nuclear energy.

      • alpha2actual

        Cape Wind project in Nantucket Sound. The project will cost $2.6 BILLON, and it has secured funding for $2 BILLON of that from a Japanese bank. But this is believed to be subject to the project gaining a loan guarantee from the U.S. Department of Energy. The contracted cost of the wind farm’s energy will be 23 cents a kilowatt hour (excluding tax credits, which are unlikely to last the length of the project), which is more than 50% higher than current average electricity prices in Massachusetts. The Bay State is already the 4th most expensive state for electricity in the nation. Even if the tax credits are preserved, $940 million of the $1.6 billion contract represents costs above projections for the likely market price of conventional power. Moreover, these costs are just the initial costs they are scheduled to rise by 3.5 percent annually for 15 years. This project is rated at 468 MW and will produce 143 MW after applying a Capacity Factor of 30.4 % the time the wind actually blows. A Combined Cycle Natural Gas plant studied by the DOE completed in 2010 is rated at 570 MW and produces 470 MW capacity factor 85%. Cost $311 MILLION. At the very least this an inefficient deployment of capital, in my opinion.

        • Bob_Wallace

          Cape Wind will be the US’s first offshore wind project. Prices will drop as we figure out how to do things cheaper and get the infrastructure in place to bring down the cost of offshore wind.

          Onshore wind used to cost $0.36/kWh. It’s now at $0.06/kWh and on its way to $0.03/kWh.

          Offshore wind probably won’t get as cheap as onshore but it is closer to our major population centers (cheaper transmission) and offshore blows harder during daylight hours which makes it valuable for supplying peak demand.

          Natural gas is cheap, but the price is rising. The current cost of NG probably does not support new well drilling based on what we have learned about the rate of well decline.

          And NG generation creates CO2 which is going to cost us very serious money over time. We’re getting ready to spend billions, many billions, to erect seawalls to protect our real estate and infrastructure from rising sea levels.

          You seem to have an “investment bent”. You aren’t thinking like an investor. At least one who understands that sometimes it takes time for good investments to pay off.

          You seem to be taking more of a day trader approach, grabbing for what you can get right now and not considering the future.

          • alpha2actual

            $2.6 BILLON generates 170 MW, $311MILLION generates 470 MW. I do not have an “investment bent” I have a critical thinking “bent”. Energy density natural gas 56 mega joules per kilogram, U 235 179,000,000 mega joules per kilo. Get it? Absent subsidies and mandates renewable energy would not be on the grid.

          • Bob_Wallace

            You fail at critical thinking if you don’t include history.

            What we almost always see is that new tech is much more expensive than where prices settle down after a while. The first hard drive I purchased cost $266,667 per gig. (I only bought 30 MB at those prices.)

            Wind is now one of our two cheapest ways to bring new generation on line. Natural gas is the other. That’s without any subsidies.

            The price of wind is fairly complete. There are no significant external costs. Natural gas has high external costs due to ground water pollution and CO2 production.

            Common sense should tell you that we should include all the costs of a technology and not cherry-pick favorable ones.

            BTW, solar is right now about even with or cheaper than NG if you add in the externals. And it should be cheaper than NG even without including external costs within five years.

            You are correct that absent subsidies and mandates renewable energy would not be on the grid. But you fail to recognize the cost of introducing a new technology is high. Those subsidies are investments in our future cheaper, cleaner electricity supply.

          • alpha2actual

            The US Energy Information Agency is the go to government source for unbiased data. Here is a listing of Federal subsidies for electric power by source, fiscal 2010, dollars per Megawatt. Oil and Gas $0.64, Hydropower $0.82, Coal $0.64, Nuclear $3.14, SOLAR $775.64, WIND $56.29. You don’t need a Harvard MBA that there is something amiss here.

            Without subsidies and mandates this nonsense wouldn’t be happening in the US. And yes it takes both sides of the isle, the Crony Capitalists, Crony Socialists and the latest addition to the mix Green Robber Barons. By the way, check out how the renewable policies have worked out in Old Europe. Spain solar has crashed, Cap and Trade market is in the tank etc ad nauseaum

          • Bob_Wallace

            Cherry-picking.

            You’re taking one year’s data and comparing subsidies for emerging technologies with technologies which have already benefited from massive amounts of subsidy. Far in excess of what renewables have received.

            Over the first 15 years of these energy sources’ subsidies, oil and gas got 5 times what renewables got (in 2010 dollars) and nuclear energy got 10 times as much. (Much of the renewable subsidies went to corn farms.)

            Between 1918 and 2009 oil and gas received average annual subsidies of $4.86 billion. (92 x $4.86 billion = $447 billion)

            Between 1947 and 1999 nuclear received average annual subsidies of $3.50 billion. (53 x $3.50 billion = $185.6 billion)

            Between 1980 and 2009 biofuel received average annual subsidies of $1.08 billion. (12 x $1.08 billion = $13 billion)

            Between 1994 and 2009 renewables received average annual subsidies of $0.37 billion.

            http://www.dblinvestors.com/documents/What-Would-Jefferson-Do-Final-Version.pdf

            Renewables received 92% less per year than oil and gas, 89% less than nuclear and 76% less than synfuels. And for many fewer years.

            How have those subsidies paid off? In the last 30 or so years the cost of wind-electricity has dropped from $0.38/kWh to $0.05/kWh. A 7x drop. The price of solar panels has fallen from around $100/watt to just above $0.50/watt. Almost a 200x drop.

            As we all know the price of fossil fuels and nuclear just keeps going up. (Aside from a short term drop in the price of natural gas.)

          • alpha2actual

            The US Energy Information Agency is the go to government source for unbiased data. Here is a listing of Federal subsidies for electric power by source, fiscal 2010, dollars per Megawatt. Oil and Gas $0.64, Hydropower $0.82, Coal $0.64, Nuclear $3.14, SOLAR $775.64, WIND $56.29. You don’t need a Harvard MBA that there is something amiss here. Don’t give me the greedy oil argument, the median profit per dollar of all the components of the S&P 500 is $.137 while the Big Oil profit is $.094.

          • Bob_Wallace

            You certainly don’t need a Harvard MBA to tell when someone is cherry-picking a single data point out of about 100 years of data.

            Even a high school student should be able to discern that sort of bogus arguing.

            It’s too bad that you can’t (or aren’t willing to) understand the difference between investing and supporting a long-established industry with government handouts.

          • Bob_Wallace

            “check out how the renewable policies have worked out in Old Europe”

            Actually renewables are doing quite well in “Old Europe”.

            A modest amount of solar on Germany’s grid saved them around 5 billion euros in 2012.

            Spain and Portugal are much helped by having lots of renewables which lets them avoid purchasing fossil fuels during hard time.

            And, no, renewables did not cause Spain’s economy to crash. That happened for the same reasons that the US economy crashed. A housing bubble and an under-regulated financial industry.

            Really, do you have any more right wing talking points left on your list? Swatting down this pro-coal propaganda is tiresome.

          • alpha2actual

            It is a misconception that the Environmental Movement is benign, well intentioned, and monolithic– it is not. In reality the movement is extremely factionalized and schizophrenic. The legitimate players are the rent seekers, grant chasers, and politicans pandering to a constituency, the Green Lobby. The True Believers are the Luddites, Malthusians, Narcissistic Xenophobes, Gaia cultists, Margaret Sanger Eugenics disciples, and Pathological Altruists to name but a few. Review your “Silent Spring” and the attending banning of DDT, Erlich’s “Population Bomb” and the Club of Rome literature. Science is intended to drive policy not the other way around. Policy driven Science misallocates capital but more importantly takes lives.

            Read some of the well crafted New York Times, Mother Jones, Village Voice etc. comments to articles relating to things “environmental” and invariably you will find references to the “carrying capacity” of our planet. This is code for their distain for Third World Inhabitants.

            These modern environmentalists, and I’m including the Global Warming Alarmists, are immoral and inhuman and have racked up a body count that surpasses that of Hitler, Stalin, and Mao combined. 100 million and counting, 80% children under five and pregnant women. End of Mission, Excellent on Target.

          • Bob_Wallace

            I’m taking this screed down.

            You’re getting far off the topic at hand. And you’re posting silly garbage.

          • alpha2actual

            The climate changes this is undeniable that’s why it is studied by paleoclimatologists. The fossil record indicates that six thousand years ago Northern Africa rapidly devolved from a verdant South America Savannah into what is now the Sahara Desert. This event caused catastrophic upheavals to populations bordering the Mediterranean Sea. This begs the question, what anthropogenic vector caused this to happen? I’m quite sure that the heavy industry of the period didn’t play a role in this event. Anyone who believes that global climate supercomputer models are useful is, of course, living in a state of sin. Apologies to John von Neumann’s famous quote on mathematical models that generate random numbers.

          • Bob_Wallace

            alpha – I’ve responded to your semi-legitimate concerns about renewable energy. This site is not a place for crackpots who can’t or refuse to accept science.

            So I’m saying goodbye to you now…

          • alpha2actual

            After 30 years and 40 Billion Dollars even the Environmentalists have turned on Ethanol yet the Crony Capitalists keeping pushing this boondoggle. Corn ethanol is a net carbon emitter after factoring in land usage, carbon footprint of fertilizer, fuel expenditure etc. Ethanol is corrosive and can’t be transported by pipeline, call in those nasty 18 wheelers. It takes 1 gallon of water to crack out 1 gallon of gasoline while 2650 gallons of water begets 1 gallon of ethanol factoring in the agricultural usage. It takes 195 pounds of fertilizer per acre of corn which adds to runoff into the Mississippi then into the Gulf of Mexico which will have the biggest recorded dead zone this year. For comparison 1 acre of Soybeans uses no fertilizer. It’s astounding to me that 40% of the total US corn production is consumed by this moronic program and after 30 years Congress is just now attempting to shut it down

          • Bob_Wallace

            Yep. Corn ethanol is a bad idea.

            Big corporate farms and the congress critters they fund keep that teat freshened.

            Time to move transportation to electricity and harvest that electricity from renewable sources.

            The savings are going to be enormous. Our cost per mile will drop. And that will reduce the cost of production.

          • alpha2actual

            Several years ago I read an article the subject of which was California’s Socially Responsible Investing policy and it’s adverse impact on the state’s Pension Fund, CalPERS. among Socially Irresponsible equities cited where tobacco stocks. Now it is axiomatic that whatever California’s policies are on all things environmental, renewable energy and pension fund management will be 180 degrees out of phase with reality. Having converted my 401(k) plan to a self directed account I invested in some tobacco stocks. Good Move. Finally I’m of the opinion the Socially Responsible Investing is, by definition, fiducially irresponsible.

          • Bob_Wallace

            You celebrate your investing in products that harm children.

            We’ve learned so much about you in such a short period of time….

          • alpha2actual

            “I am an environmentalist and founder member of the Greens but I bow my head in shame at the thought that our original good intentions should have been so misunderstood and misapplied. We never intended a fundamentalist Green movement that rejected all energy sources other than renewable, nor did we expect the Greens to cast aside our priceless ecological heritage because of their failure to understand that the needs of the Earth are not separable from human need. We need take care that the spinning windmills do not become like the statues on Easter Island, monuments of a failed civilization.”

            James Lovelock,

            environmentalist and inventor of the Gaia hypothesis

          • Bob_Wallace

            I thought we already established that there is a range of opinions among environmentalists as to how we solve our climate problems.

  • Dave2020

    These issues should never be viewed on an ‘either-or’ basis.

    PV is intermittent – period. Depending on location and system penetration that may or may not be an issue that needs to be addressed.

    “Storing heat energy is also 20-100 times more cost-effective than storing electricity in batteries”. Moreover, CSP + TES is both ‘before-generator’ and dispatchable.

    “At high penetration levels CSP with TES can be despatched to displace natural gas” Different as chalk and cheese.
    http://www.theengineer.co.uk/1015145.article?cmpid=TE01

    “Many suggest that solar thermal is rendered more expensive by the addition of storage. That may be true for capital cost, but that does not tell the story of LCOE. The dispatchable nature of solar thermal with storage will make it a particularly valuable form of energy in future scenarios.”

  • Matt

    I don’t see the “classic experience curve” all the learning happen in the first 50-100 MW which broke $10k/kW and got down to $5k/KW. After that the price goes up and down, but no below the $5k/KW line. We’re now up to 1400MW, and showing $7k. Just repeating same mistakes over and over again?

    • mds

      Spot on, take away the first two points and you can do a least-squares line fit that is going to be pretty flat and it’s not even clear it will be going down. You can just look at the plotted data points and see there is not any kind of learning curve going on. The drop in the red curve fit line has far more to do with the type of curve being forced to the data itself. The red curve is non-sense.

      There is no evidence CSP will be the technology that saves us all. There is a lot of evidence

    • mds

      ….There is a lot of evidence PV will be the technology that saves us all. It still is not clear what form of energy storage will be the lowest cost and the best solution may turn out to be a mix of storage solutions. Pumped hydro in areas were geologic terrain features allow for this, compressed air in others, and batteries in still other areas… for example. (even with batteries it is not clear which chemistries will win and several technologies could be used in the end. We’ll have to wait and see.

  • JamesWimberley

    No mention of CSP’s biggest problem: the learning curve for solar PV is much steeper. That’s why Desertec, a German-led vision to build huge CSP plants in North Africa and transmit the power to Europe, has gone into hibernation, or should I say estivation. CSP will continue to struggle until dispatchable renewable capacity is properly priced.

    CSP’s selling point is as you point out the option of storage in big underground tanks of hot salt. It’s technically possible to get 24-hour operation, as shown by the Gemasolar plant in Spain. But this is probably not worth it. The Australian modelling of a 100% renewables scenario settled I think on about 6 hours of storage as the optimum, to cover the evening peak load. The much smaller night-time dispatchable load (when wind output drops) can be covered more cheaply by pumped storage or biomass; if you settle for a 95% renewable target, by gas.

    • Bob_Wallace

      My guess is that Desertec ran into problems due to the political unrest in North Africa.

      There’s a new plan called E-Highway2050 which leaves out most of NA. Morocco excepted.

      • http://zacharyshahan.com/ Zachary Shahan

        And the economic problems of Europe…

  • Marion Meads

    Major problem with all of the CSP deployed and designed is that it occupies so much land. If we compute the efficiency as total energy generated divided by the total radiation energy that falls on the entire area of the facility, we would get a very low number, less than 7%. So they base the efficiency somewhere else and redefine it based on other parameters, such as the efficiency of their turbines.

    However, that major problem of eating a lot of land disappears when the land is dirt cheap, such as free leases from the government to use unutilized desert lands or non-arable lands. I just wished that designers should at least put an effort into better energy land use efficiency. Some designers for example are exploring on mimicking the arrangement of stigmas on a sunflower as they are very compact and yet do not shade each other out.

    • Bob_Wallace

      How does CSP land use compare with coal plant lifetime land use when coal mining is included?

      Efficiency is irrelevant. The important measurement is cost of electricity produced. Modified by time of production and external costs.

      • Marion Meads

        Efficiency is super relevant when land comes at a premium price.
        Efficiency is super relevant when weight becomes a factor in energy production such as those sent off for generating electricity in outer space.

        When land is free, we optimize for cost. Still, it remains, the existing projects are wasting too much space when the mirrors could have been creatively arranged even saving construction costs, in terms of less wiring for the controls, smaller land area to till and prepare, and saving costs during maintenance as it would require less distance, and hence less time to travel from mirror to mirror. Less fencing required to keep out trespassers as well. Who could be against all these? The current designers of CSP are not very creative, wasteful and are not using their brains that much. It truly irritates me to see sunlight wasted in between large swaths of empty land between the mirrors. They are wasting something like 50% of land that are not capturing sunlight. A good design would only waste about 10% of land for maintenance space.

        • Bob_Wallace

          Land, wiring and other costs are reflected in the price of electricity produced.

          Can savings be wrung out of systems with better design and higher efficiencies? Certainly.

        • derekbolton

          The folk who design these systems are pretty smart and use sophisticated software. I would be astonished if they were laying out the mirror fields in a wasteful manner. If we’re talking steerable mirrors and a central tower, you have to worry about mirrors shading and blocking each other at different times of day.
          As pointed out by others, the land use is only relevant in terms of its contribution to the LCOE.

        • mds

          Utter nonsense Marion. CPV is the most efficient (Amonix), CSP is the next more efficient, PV is the least efficient of the three. PV is stomping on CPV and CSP in the market place. That’s a fact and it has nothing to do with anything accept that PV has a lower unit (panel) cost AND lower installed cost than CPV and CSP.

          Efficiency is important only when it is lowering the panel cost and/or install cost so that $/kWh are lower. PV is winning with the lower efficiency of the three just as Bob says.

          Also, I just flew back from to Seattle from LA. Lot of desert scrub land down there north of LA and an awful lot of empty roof space, and park lot space, in LA, an awful lot. Do some flying yourself over South-Eastern California, Nevada, New-Mexico, Texas, Utah west of Salt Lake city, Mexico south of California and down toward Mexico City, down the Baja peninsula, etc. I think you’ll find there is enough space to use solar PV to supply the equivalent of the entire worlds energy needs several times over. Here are a few size references for this:

          http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Solar_land_area.png

          http://i.imgur.com/j9wrB.jpg

          Travis Bradford states in the book “The Solar Revolution” 2006, that 1/3 of the Earth’s terrestrial surface is desert. I think there is plenty of room for natural desert preserves and all the solar power we’ll ever need in my lifetime.

          • Otis11

            That is a great map… thank you.

        • mds

          btw I was flying for work. You can do that flying virtually with google earth and use a lot less fuel.
          Regards,
          Mike

    • dynamo.joe

      I’m sure if you wanted to you could do similar exercises for coal/nat gas, etc. What is the conversion efficiency of the steam turbine? 40%-ish? How much energy is used to transport a few hundred tons of coal a few thousand miles everyday? How much energy is used in the mining operation?

      I would be surprised if 30% of the chemical energy in coal is turned into electricity.

      Anyway, my point is all energy conversion processes are pretty inefficient. Why get yourself in a tizzy because this one is too? Even if it is less efficient, it has pluses to offset that perceived minus.

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