Last week, Abengoa, BrightSource Energy, and Torresol Energy (some of the world’s top concentrating solar power companies) launched the Concentrating Solar Power Alliance (CSPA). “The new organization is dedicated to educating U.S. regulators, utilities and grid operators about the unique benefits of concentrating solar power (CSP) and of thermal energy storage as a foundational resource for a reliable, low-carbon electricity mix and a driver of economic growth,” a news release stated.
“Concentrating solar power technology is the only renewable resource that is capable of harnessing the world’s most abundant fuel source – the sun – to produce reliable, cost-effective, and dispatchable electricity,” said Tex Wilkins, Executive Director of the CSP Alliance. “We believe CSP, with the ability to dispatch electricity when it is needed, is critical in meeting the energy challenges facing the United States and the world.”
There is debate about whether rooftop solar PV or concentrating solar power (CSP) is better. There are many arguments made against CSP, such as CSP’s water use and price and even its touted energy storage potential, and there are many arguments made for it (you can see some of those above and below).
I think CSP has an important role to play in the future electricity mix of the United States and other countries, even though I do greatly value the decentralized nature of rooftop solar PV. And, really, I don’t see them as competing as much as supplementing each other (though, in some ways, it’s clear they do compete). So, I’m happy to hear that the CSP industry is uniting to better present its case and push for this less-well-known form of clean energy.
Here’s more from the CSPA news release on its specific mission and goals: “The Alliance’s mission is to promote the increased acceptance, adoption and implementation of concentrating solar power plants in the United States. The Alliance will also promote policies to encourage and advance CSP technology deployment.”
Here are three videos from the three companies behind the founding of this new alliance:
And, if you’re still not clear on what CSP is or where it is today, who to give you a better summary of the technology and current use than the CSP Alliance? Here’s a lot more on that from the new organization (the remainder of this article comes from the CSPA’s news release):
CSP technologies use mirrors to concentrate the thermal energy of the sun to drive a conventional steam turbine. The first commercial CSP plants were built in California in the mid-1980’s and are operating today with a higher output than when they were new.
There are currently over 500 MW of CSP plants operating in the U.S and more than 1,300 megawatts of CSP plants under construction nationally, with many gigawatts more under development. Worldwide, more than one gigawatt of CSP is in operation. The International Energy Agency estimates that CSP projects now in development or under construction in more than a dozen countries (including China, India, Morocco, Spain and the United States) total 15 gigawatts.
Utilities and grid operators worldwide value CSP plants because of the technology’s ability to:
- Produce electricity at peak demand when it is needed most during the late afternoon or early summer evening hours or winter mornings
- Include cost-effective, efficient thermal energy storage to provide a flexible and dispatchable clean energy source, day or night
- Incorporate into fossil fuel power plants as “hybrids” for cleaner baseload power
There are different designs for steam-producing CSP technology that incorporate storage. These include power towers, parabolic troughs and linear reflectors, each based on proven engineering principles.
CSP plants have also shown to be great creators of economic benefits in the regions where they are built as well as across the United States. A recent study of the Spanish CSP industry by Deloitte found that compared to other power generation sources, CSP plants are a strong generator of local jobs during construction, operation, and maintenance. The supply chain feeding CSP plants creates jobs nationwide as well, due largely to the plants’ high percentage of domestically-sourced components1. Another study commissioned by the U.S. National Renewable Energy Lab for the Department of Energy found that a 100 megawatt CSP plant creates more than $600 million in impact to gross state output, ten times that of a combined cycle fossil plant2 due to the local content and job creation.
The formation of the CSP Alliance builds on the momentum following the creation of the World Solar Thermal Electricity Association (STELAWorld), a consortium of industry associations representing the solar thermal electricity industry in Europe, Australia and South Africa. While independent of STELAWorld, the CSP Alliance will work closely with these associations to further advance the solar thermal industry in the U.S. and abroad.
CSP is poised to grow worldwide, creating clean power and jobs as it expands to meet the world’s energy needs. Current CSP projects are demonstrating the technology’s viability and a recent study from the International Energy Agency shows that with sufficient investment and the right government policies, more than ten percent of the world’s electricity demand could be satisfied by CSP by 2050.
For more information about CSP Alliance, visit http://www.csp-alliance.org
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