Clean Power

Published on December 24th, 2012 | by James Ayre


Concentrating Solar Power With Thermal Energy Storage Is Economically Useful For Utility Company Profits, Study Finds

December 24th, 2012 by  

Utility companies can benefit considerably from the utilization of concentrating solar power (CSP) and available energy storage methods, a new study from the US Department of Energy’s National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL) has found.

A CSP that possesses a 6-hour storage capacity works well to lower peak net loads for the part of the day when the sun isn’t shining. That’s “enough to add $35.80 per megawatt hour to the capacity and operational value of the utility, compared to photovoltaic (PV) solar power alone, and even higher extra value when compared to CSP without storage. The net load is the normal load minus variable renewables such as photovoltaic and wind.”

The thermal storage creates additional value because it allows CSP to replace the gas-fired generation that is used during peak loads and is more expensive, and also because it works to even out the solar power generation throughout the day, rather than a big bump during the day and big drop-off at night.

How The Value Was Determined

This study is one of the first where “the operational and capacity value of CSP with thermal storage has been evaluated using a production cost model, a traditional utility planning tool,” NREL writes.

The researchers used Energy Exemplar’s PLEXOS simulation model to specifically isolate the value of thermal energy storage (TES) with and without storage relative to other generation methods.

“We’ve known for a long time that CSP with storage adds significant value, however, we are now able to quantify this value in the language utilities understand,” said Mark Mehos, manager of NREL’s Concentrating Solar Power program.

“With CSP with thermal storage, you aren’t diving as deep into the generation stack, displacing cheaper and cheaper fuel,” Denholm said. “You’re always displacing the highest-cost fuel.”

Source: NREL
Image Credits: PS10 via Wikimedia Commons

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About the Author

's background is predominantly in geopolitics and history, but he has an obsessive interest in pretty much everything. After an early life spent in the Imperial Free City of Dortmund, James followed the river Ruhr to Cofbuokheim, where he attended the University of Astnide. And where he also briefly considered entering the coal mining business. He currently writes for a living, on a broad variety of subjects, ranging from science, to politics, to military history, to renewable energy. You can follow his work on Google+.

  • robertemery

    The study is slanted in that it assumes and compares the costs of intermittent simple cycle peaking plants to thermal storage. The solar production curve does not exactly match the peak demand curve, the more solar that is used, the more expensive peaking power is needed until 34% RE. I am commenting on facts of a study and not on solar directly. Solar is the future

  • Bob_Wallace

    A little problem that CSP might have is as PV prices continue to drop we will reach a point at which people will start to point some panels to the west and extend the solar day. That will take away a couple or so hours from CSP.

    (And point some east to lengthen the solar day on that end as well.)

    • Ronald Brak

      If solar PV pushes down electricity prices during the day then existing pumped storage will be used to meet evening demand and put downward pressure on evening electricity prices. Of course, the amount of existing energy storage varies from place to place.

    • robertemery

      The CSP boys shot themselves in the foot. The next generation of CSP was trough or Fresnel solar direct steam generation and specifically excluded from Government funding. Implementation continues overseas although not widely known in the US.

      Solar PV has an advantage over CSP other than falling costs. PV can be used to dissociate the water molecule into hydrogen and oxygen and the hydrogen stored and during evening demand used to produce electricity by fuel cells. All the components are essentially off the shelf and will also be used to provide hydrogen for fuel cell vehicles.

      • Bob_Wallace

        The advantage of hydrogen, battery, CAES or pump-up storage over CSP-heat is that they are non-discriminating. They can accept input from any generator while CSP-heat is limited to what thermal is captured.

        A storage system that can perform multiple cycles per day is going to make more money than a system limited to one.

  • JoeJoe

    NREL strikes out again.

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