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Published on August 25th, 2015 | by Susan Kraemer


Cheap Baseload Solar At Copiapó Gets OK In Chile (Exclusive Info)

August 25th, 2015 by  

SolarReserve’s baseload solar 260 MW Copiapó project bids into the grid in April, having just cleared Chile’s permitting with a Resolución de Calificación Ambiental.

Configuration Copiapo

Credit: SolarReserve — Copiapó

With a price expected to be well under 10 cents per kilowatt-hour, the pioneering 24-hour solar project in Chile’s Atacama desert can compete on price against other baseload generation. Much of Chile has been dependent on pricy fossil fuel imports from its neighbors. But with more competition now from cheaper solar, in recent years, average prices bid into the central interconnected system (SIC) grid in Chile are down below 11 cents per kWh in 2015.

“We expect our power price to be well under what can be provided from any conventional fuel source, and emissions-free,” SolarReserve CEO Kevin Smith told CleanTechnica today.

Average prices tendered for SIC

Credit: Chilean National Energy Commission — prices bid averaged 10.8 cents in 2014

Copiapó’s low price -0 for true 24-hour baseload solar — is possible because SolarReserve has combined dual solar technologies — photovoltaic (PV) and concentrated solar power (CSP) with energy storage — so it can supply electricity both day and night.

In a typical power purchase agreement (PPA), a plant is earning by the kilowatt-hour; so if it is generating 24 hours a day like Copiapó can, the developer is getting paid more daily, and can bid a lower overall price per kilowatt-hour, than if it was generating only 8 to 12 hours out of 24 like PV.

Smith told CleanTechnica that the 260 MW project will comprise 150 MW of PV panels for daytime generation, and two 130 MW CSP towers utilizing the company’s molten salt storage, for an installation of 410 MW between the two solar technologies.

By oversizing the CSP, SolarReserve can guarantee a round-the-clock baseload supply for a firm 260 MW at more than 90% capacity.

“Total installed capacity is 410MW, but different parts of the plant run for different hours to provide 260 MW 24 hours a day,” he said.

“We added CSP with storage to fill in the periods that the PV is off and to back up the PV. Look at a 100 MW PV facility for example. It ramps up and runs at peak output for 4 or 5 hours but as it ramps down at the end of the day it doesn’t make 100 MW. It makes maybe 60 MW as the sun goes down; so 50, 40, 30 MW and down to nothing.

“Whereas CSP with storage; we can turn on, and provide baseload non-intermittent supply, and then when we turn off, we turn off. So it has a different profile than you see in other renewable energy.”

Copiapó just received its environmental permits from Chile’s Impact Assessment System (Sistema de Evaluación de Impacto Ambiental — SEIA) which is administered by the Environmental Evaluation Service (SEA), the 260 MW project was granted the Chilean environmental permit, the resolution (Resolución de Calificación Ambiental / RCA).

Having a site fully permitted in advance of April’s bidding moves the project to the front of the queue in Chile.

“We think any kind of evaluation process will be scored by the project that is more advanced,” Smith said. “Typically in those bidding rounds they are looking for more advanced projects so we are also talking with a number of players to do direct power off take for them as opposed to bidding into the tender.”

SolarReserve expects to compete on cost with carbon combustion, even though Chile provides no renewable subsidies.

Chile salt desert

Credit: adventure-life.com — Chile’s salt desert 

“This technology realistically has the potential to power the entire country of Chile using two phenomenal Chilean resources, salt and sun,” said Tom Georgis, SVP at SolarReserve.

Where Copiapó is sited, the SIC grid serves a heavy mining base. Many industries with heavy capital expenditures operate 24 hours a day, with multiple shifts. The mining sector in Chile utilizes multiple shifts, and needs firm power round the clock.

Pairing PV with its fellow solar technology, CSP, to firm up intermittency, rather than relying on battery backup has many benefits. CSP molten salt storage has essentially no limit on the number of times the molten salt is cycled through the tank, while batteries have short life cycle limits.

At this point CSP storage costs about $30 per kilowatt-hour of storage built, whereas batteries cost about $500 per kilowatt-hour of storage built. Battery storage would need to cut its price by 95% to be cheaper than utility-scale CSP storage.

Yet the PV industry has been slow to leverage the value of CSP’s cost-effective storage in solar PV/CSP hybrid plants like Copiapó.

“It is a little ironic the interplay between the photovoltaic and the CSP, it’s a little bit like the guys in the coal industry throwing rocks at the solar industry when it could work in unison quite well, because it’s a big playpen but, nevertheless the players don’t always get on the same train,” said Scott Frier, COO of Renewables at ACWA Power.

A native Californian, Frier developed the 250 MW Mojave and 280 MW Solana CSP projects for Abengoa before moving to the Middle East this year to join ACWA Power.

Crescent Dunes, SolarReserve’s first CSP tower with 10 hours of storage had a 13.5 cent/kWh PPA.

Redstone SolarReserve and ACWA Power

Credit: SolarReserve — Redstone

Its second project had a 12 cent/kWh PPA: Redstone, awarded in January is now being jointly developed with ACWA Power in South Africa, with 12 hours of storage.

As only the third project to utilize SolarReserve’s innovative RocketDyne technology, and taking it to its limits with 24-hour power generation; Copiapó is able to offer a lower PPA yet.

As the first solar plant to operate at a capacity factor and availability percentage equivalent to that of a carbon combustion power plant like coal, oil, or natural gas, but without the climate damage, the 260 MW Copiapó project also represents a game changer for solar energy.

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About the Author

writes at CleanTechnica, CSP-Today and Renewable Energy World.  She has also been published at Wind Energy Update, Solar Plaza, Earthtechling PV-Insider , and GreenProphet, Ecoseed, NRDC OnEarth, MatterNetwork, Celsius, EnergyNow, and Scientific American. As a former serial entrepreneur in product design, Susan brings an innovator's perspective on inventing a carbon-constrained civilization: If necessity is the mother of invention, solving climate change is the mother of all necessities! As a lover of history and sci-fi, she enjoys chronicling the strange future we are creating in these interesting times.    Follow Susan on Twitter @dotcommodity.

  • Bob_Wallace

    Tom always sets his arguments up so that nuclear wins.

  • JamesWimberley

    With its eel-like shape and unpopulated desert in the north, Chile hasn’t yet got a single national grid. The mines in the far north have their own (partial) grid, SING. The government has just approved a plan(link)to link the two, but it’s a major project and will presumably take some time.

  • Shane 2

    Chile also has huge hydro and pumped hydro potential in the south. However, there is a lot of opposition to building new dams there.

    • JamesWimberley

      The Chilean SIC grid doesn’t stretch to the far south, where the potential presumably lies. High-voltage transmission would push up the cost.

  • wattleberry

    One way of putting some of the huge salt mountains arising from all the coming desalination plants into use.

    • Larmion

      You wouldn’t want to use table salt (sodium chloride) for that. The ideal salt for thermal storage has:

      1) A high heat capacity, so that a small volume of salt can store a lot of energy.
      2) A high melting point, so that the steam you generate is hot enough to run a (super)critical power plant.

      This combination of requirements is met only by a mixture of various nitrate salts.

      Fun fact: Chile derived much of its original wealth from mining nitrate salts for the fertilizer industry; now those same salts are helping to power Chile’s mines.

    • Haha. But – wrong salt. It is not sea salt.

  • Larmion

    “At this point CSP storage costs about $30 per kilowatt-hour of storage built”

    Thank you. This is the first recent article I’ve seen that quantifies the cost of thermal storage, and it confirms what I’ve been saying based on older information: that CSP still beats PV on cost when storage is required.

    In developing countries, where reserve margins are tight and flexible generation capacity tends to be in short supply, CSP could really shine. South Africa is a good example: an overwhelming majority of its power is generated by old, unreliable and inflexible coal power stations that mesh far batter with flexible CSP than with less flexible PV (don’t expect PV to step into the breach when a power station fails in the middle of the night, or to ramp up production during the early evening peak).

    • Neptune

      It depends on the fraction that needs to be stored. You don’t need to store 100%. You only need to store 20-30% of excess peak.

      If PV comes at 5cents/kWh and batteries at 15cents/kWh, then storing 33% of power costs 5cents/kWh which gives you 10cents/kWh when combined with PV, which is still cheaper than CSP at 13.5cents/kWh.

      • Larmion

        Of course. Storage requirements will vary hugely depending on the reserve margin and on the share of rapidly responding generators (hydro, NG) in the energy mix.

        The need for cheap storage, and thus for CSP, increases as those two factors decrease. That’s why I’m somewhat sceptical of CSP’s potential in developed markets like the US, where power demand is flat and flexible capacity is huge. In developing markets, however, the picture tends to very different.

      • vensonata

        Large batteries such as the Tesla Powerpack work out close to 5cents kwh. In that case the combined cost at 5cents PV and 33% storage would be perhaps 8centskw. Storage costs may go even lower with large scale flow batteries.

        • For homes, and cars, obviously batteries will always win anyway, because we don’t have the option of putting CSP on our roofs.

          The temperature of the steam alone is not what you’d want on your roof above your loved ones!

          But in any case CSP towers are only a utility-scale option, unlike PV which can be as small as one panel supplying a camper or even a cell phone.

          So CSP molten salt storage – its in these gigantic tanks – is never going to compete with a Tesla battery in your garage.

          • The low Tesla prices are for utility-scale storage. cleantechnica.com/2015/05/09/tesla-powerwall-powerblocks-per-kwh-lifetime-prices-vs-aquion-energy-eos-energy-imergy/

            But another important matter is that batteries don’t really work for seasonal storage. Not sure how useful molten salt is for that either… but should be noted.

      • Bob_Wallace

        With PV solar at 5c/kWh unless CPS directly used is <5c it would seem that you would want to store about 100%.

        If stored CSP is 13.5c then it would sell first over stored solar at 15c/20c.

        Battery storage is likely to be a lot less than 10c, so the math will change.

        • Larmion

          You seem to be accept that battery cost will fall while assuming that CSP will stagnate. There’s very little reason to believe that: the industry is still advancing very quickly technologically and is only just beginning to reach economies of scale.

          CSP capacity grew 27% during 2014 (source: http://www.evwind.es/2015/06/23/concentrated-solar-power-csp-in-2014-grew-27-to-4-4-gw/52899 ) and is expected to grow quite a bit further over the coming years.

          Abengoa reports that its South African plants cost only half of what their Spanish plants just a few years older cost (source: http://www.evwind.es/2015/08/08/concentrated-solar-power-csp-market-to-hit-53-7-bn-by-2020/53740 ).

          • Bob_Wallace

            No, not at all.

            I’m looking at what battery storage likely costs right now and 10c/kWh is too high.

            EOS Energy is contracting for 2016 installations. Their price is supposedly $160/kW. Cycled once a day that’s less than 3c/kWh.

            Tesla’s Powerwall is $250/kW? That’s about 5c/kWh.

            Looking forward Alevo says they are shipping this year at $100/kWh. Ambri is apparently grid testing at $100/kWh. Those would be <3c/kWh if they pan out.

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