Clean Power

Published on September 2nd, 2013 | by James Ayre


1st Concentrating Solar Power Plant In South Africa Is Nearly Online

September 2nd, 2013 by  

Originally published on CleanTechnica sister site Ecopreneurist.

The Khi Solar One concentrating solar power plant is now one step closer to reality with the recent completion of the Khi Solar One tower in the Northern Cape province, near Upington, in South Africa. The company behind the 50 MW project — Abengoa, together with its partners the Industrial Development Corporation (IDC) and the Khi Community Trust — recently held a ceremony to commemorate the important milestone. An important milestone with regard to the project itself, and also with regard to the pursuit of South Africa’s renewable energy goals.

The newly completed 205-meter tall tower — which will be the centerpiece of, and driving force behind the 50 MW concentrating solar power (CSP) plant — represents a significant advance in solar tower efficiency, possessing both the capacity for higher temperatures than previous designs, and also a new ‘innovative’ dry-cooling system. The improvements are the result of research performed by Abengoa.

The Abengoa press release explains the significance of the project, and provides further details:

Khi Solar One, a 50 megawatt (MW) superheated steam solar tower with two hours of thermal storage, and KaXu Solar One, Abengoa’s 100 MW parabolic trough plant also under construction in the Northern Cape, will be the first concentrating solar power plants in operation in South Africa. The South Africa Department of Energy intends to bring 17,800 MW online from renewable sources by 2030, framing South Africa’s strategy for energy independence. The solar projects form a part of this strategy, as well as have additional environmental benefits: creating roughly 1400 local construction jobs on average per annum, peaking near 2000, and about 70 permanent operation jobs, as well as reducing the country’s carbon dioxide emissions by about 498,000 tons each year.

Abengoa designs, constructs and operates its own plants, and is one of the few companies that use both parabolic trough and tower technology. It currently has 21 plants in operation with a total installed capacity of 843 MW, as well as 810 MW under construction worldwide.

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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+.

  • Yvette

    Yes we do need to build more solar heat power plants! Interesting article!

  • JamesWimberley

    Abengoa started construction in November 2012. The plant isn´t open yet, but heliostats aren´t very complicated. We are looking at about a one-year construction time – for the first plant of its type in South Africa. CSP is highly replicable.

    • agelbert

      I have always wonders why the 9 CSP plants built in the Mojave desert in the 1980s ( 354 MW total ) were never replicated extensively. I read somewhere that an artificial lid was placed on the maximum size to limit there competitive ability with fossil fuels (by friends of fossil fuels in politics) but I have not been able to source this.

      Do you have any information on why the massive foot dragging occurred in the 1980s to build thousands of these power plants instead of just 9? After all, the Mojave desert is huge. Cloud free, sunny sites abound so there was no excuse fro not scaling them up except to keep them (deliberately) from being competitive with fossil fuels.

      I am aware of the massive lowering of the price of crude oil in the 1980s but it still was a bad idea to use fossil fuels because of the hidden cost to project American power in the Middle East.

      The American public have learned that wars of choice are wars for predatory capitalist profit. The American public knows any war will undermine social programs and our nation’s infrastructure. It’s a matter of money. Nobody except the corporate con artists and their water carriers in government who will get some swag from war, misery and death support a war anywhere, never mind Syria.

      Jump on the way back machine and go back to that war you thought worked out just great for the USA, the first Iraq war back in 1991. Read what this peer reviewed book (for those who disagree with the data, that means the facts are not disputable) quote by Dilworth has to say about how we-the-people have been suckered big time for many decades.

      Dilworth (2010-03-12). Too Smart for our Own Good (pp. 399-400). Cambridge University Press. Kindle Edition.

      “As suggested earlier, war, for example, which represents a cost for society, is a source of profit to capitalists. In this way we can partly understand e.g. the American military expenditures in the Persian Gulf area. Already before the first Gulf War, i.e. in 1985, the United States spent $47 billion projecting power into the region. If seen as being spent to obtain Gulf oil, It AMOUNTED TO $468 PER BARREL, or 18 TIMES the $27 or so that at that time was paid for the oil itself.

      In fact, if Americans had spent as much to make buildings heat-tight as they spent in ONE YEAR at the end of the 1980s on the military forces meant to protect the Middle Eastern oil fields, THEY COULD HAVE ELIMINATED THE NEED TO IMPORT OIL from the Middle East.

      So why have they not done so? Because, while the $468 per barrel may be seen as being a cost the American taxpayers had to bear, and a negative social effect those living in the Gulf area had to bear, it meant only profits for American capitalists. ”

      Note: I added the bold caps emphasis on the barrel of oil price, money spent in one year and the need to import oil from the Middle East.

      • Bob_Wallace

        “Show me the money”

        From what I recall those CSPs didn’t produce electricity as cheaply as coal. Probably want to check that out.

        I suspect they would have to have been significantly cheaper in order to change the trajectory of how things were done. The same, or only a little less expensive probably wouldn’t have done it.

        And oil has been ‘cheap enough’ plus we never add in the war/economic disruption cost at the pump. If we had to pay for our oil wars when we filled our tanks we’d all be driving EVs and PHEVs now.

        It’s a problem brought to us by the invisible hand. We pick what seems to be cheap at the moment.

        • agelbert

          True. But the price of coal or any other fossil fuel wasn’t really cheap at all back then or now for that matter, was it? So the fact remains that CSP was cheaper, when all environmental, military and artificial subsidy costs are added.

          Neither you nor I are part the “we” that actually benefited from expensive coal and oil branded as “cheap”.

          The subsidies the nuclear and fossil-fuel industry receive — and have received for many years — make their product “affordable.”

          Those subsidies take many forms, but the most significant are their “externalities.”

          Externalities are real costs, but they are foisted off on the community instead of being paid by the companies that caused them.[18]

          Paul Epstein, director of Harvard Medical School Center for Health and the Global Environment, has the health and environmental impacts of coal, including: mining, transportation, combustion in power plants and the impact of coal’s waste stream. He found that the “life cycle effects of coal and its waste cost the American public $333 billion to over $500 billion dollars annually”. These are costs the coal industry is not paying and which fall to the community in general. Eliminating that subsidy would dramatically increase the price of coal-fired electricity.[18]

          Bob, Coal was never cheap. It was always poison. Slave wages in mines and ignoring air, ground and water pollution while providing artificial subsidies doesn’t make something cheap. It was so in 1890 and it’s so now.
          We stop using it and oil or we perish from poisons.

          We could have gone solar over a century ago if inventions like this had not been knocked out of the running by the fossil fuel friends in high places:
          1887 Solar printing press:

          • Bob_Wallace

            I suspect less than 5%, possibly well less than 5%, of all Americans understand the external cost of fossil fuels. And few people look at our Mideastern conflicts and understand the role and expense of using oil.
            I expect utilities and the coal/oil industry totally does, but hopes that ordinary people don’t catch on.

            Hopefully we can put people back in control of Congress who understand that by spending more money on renewables we can cut our fossil fuel use and save money. Fossil fuel interests will continue to claim that we’re spending too much to move to a renewable grid.

            As individuals I think something we can do is to help inform people about the cost of fossil fuels. If we could get the number to something over 10% (my guesstimation) then the information should gain a life of its own. Word of mouth could finish the job.

          • agelbert

            Agreed. I continue to harp on the subject of the true cost over and over again. It’s kind of a bizarro world for people to be worrying about oil as if it were a good thing and not a deadly poison. I remember a Gulf Oil refinery that would pay people extra to work near a certain area around the cracking towers where a high amount of polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons in the atmosphere guaranteed bone cancer. Workers were informed and offered over $20 and hour (in the 1970s) to work there. They were never short of people. Yeah, it was perfectly legal and it’s still is.
            But this dynamic is impacting us on a global scale now. Governments tax hydrocarbons so they are adverse to renewable energy as a replacement (It’s hard to put a 15 cent a ‘solar gallon’ tax on PV panels or whatever.
            It’s an uphill battle but we all must do what we can for the sake of our grandchildren.
            Fossil fuels and war have a lot in common. But the main similarity is that they provide profits for the 1% and the shaft for the rest of us.
            Consequently, I believe getting rid of fossil fuels will have a dampening effect on geopolitical resource thinking and probably give us less wars.
            Perhaps if people can see the connection between these two scourges on the biosphere (war and fossil fuel burning), it will be easier to convince people that fossil fuels were always prohibitively expensive, rather than “cheap”.

          • Bob_Wallace

            There’s essentially a zero chance of getting people to give up oil until we give them ‘as good’ or better options.

            Better public transportation, better/safer bike lanes and high speed rail are things we can do right now. That will get some people out of cars and planes.

            The other thing we could do is heavily subsidize larger PHEVs for those people who need something that EVs can’t yet do. Create a market for “F-150/250/350” pickups, vans, and large SUVs.

            Yes, some people do need larger vehicles. (Preemptive swat. ;o)

            Take the vehicles which use the most energy per mile and put their first 20-30 miles on the grid.

            We’ll get 200 mile range small cars first. Then, probably, batteries will evolve to allow 200 mile range large vehicles. But while we wait we could get a lot of our large vehicle mileage off oil.

  • Aegys87

    I wonder how is Brightsource doing..CSP is still in a very tough neighbourhood…

    • agelbert

      Here’s their latest video where the project manager explains how materials are bonded to the mirrors, allowed to dry, then how the structure is attached to the tracking mechanism and tested:

      It seems to be going well. I notice the mirrors are flat, not curved, so that probably makes them somewhat easier to clean in the desert environment.

      “As the Ivanpah project nears completion, the team continues to move full steam ahead. During the months of February, March and April, more than 1,250 construction workers advanced the project to more than 92 percent complete! To date, more than 153,990 of the project’s total 173,500 heliostats have been installed. Several stunning photos below show recent progress at the site. For a slideshow of all the new photos, click here.”

  • We need to build many more solar heat power plants. These are much more efficient than PV and they use far less “exotic” materials. And we need to use more solar heat systems on houses and buildings, both for domestic hot water and for heat in the winter.

    • JamesWimberley

      Efficiency in solar conversion is only important insofar as it reduces costs, and for CSP these are still higher than PV. The real selling point of CSP against PV is storage: it´s straightforward to divert some of the heat into large hot salt tanks. It´s technically possible to get 24-hour running this way (Google Gemasolar), but this is not generally optimal. You want to extend production for a few hours into the evening, not after midnight. Abengoa have only put 2 hours storage into Khi Solar One.

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