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Concentrated Solar Power Could Get a Big Boost

solar farmConcentrated solar power (CSP) could get a major thrust forward. According to the Las Vegas Review-Journal, SolarReserve is looking into whether to build a 2,000 megawatt solar plant that connects to the transmission system and would provide electricity to 1 million homes and businesses. It would be called Sandstone and be comprised of 10 towers and 100,000 concentrated mirrors.

According to CleanTechnica, it would cost $5 billion and be part of the Obama administration’s SunShot initiative, which provides federal incentives to several such centrally-located solar plants. While such facilities are able to deliver power more efficiently than rooftop solar panels, they are far more expensive.

The benefit of CSP is that the facilities can be equipped with molten salt as a heat transfer fluid and energy storage device, allowing generation to occur after the sun has set. But construction and production costs are high, especially when compared to falling photovoltaic (PV) solar panel prices, which can be found on rooftops and in huge fields. Energy derived from PV panels, however, can only be accessed when the sun is out.

“We don’t have all the answers yet to know if CSP is economical,” says Tom Conroy, president of Evolving Energies in Sante Fe, NM, in an earlier interview. “We are spending several billion dollars to build CSP without storage to find this out, with some strong government loan guarantees. At the moment, CSP with storage is significantly more expensive, which should not be surprising given that we are building the first few plants. But, by associating energy storage with these plants, we create dis-patchable power” that has more value.

According to the GTM Research, the US will install more than 6,000 megawatts of non-renewable portfolio standard utility-scale solar in 2016. That’s compared to the roughly 4,000 megawatts installed in 2015. Utility scale solar aggregates thousands of panels together at a central location.

Utility-scale solar deals are eligible to receive a tax credit, which reduces developers’ tax bill dollar-for-dollar by up to 30 percent of a project’s worth. That happens to be a strong motivating factor, in addition to the long-term power purchasing agreements that utilities are signing with builders.

The GTM report says that the United States has installed 11,600 megawatts of total utility-scale solar. It adds that 80 percent of that is coming from projects procured by utilities because they need to meet states’ renewable portfolio standards that mandate they generate a certain amount of green energy.

If the SolarReserve project comes to fruition, it would be a huge bonus to solar and specifically to CSP.

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One thought on “Concentrated Solar Power Could Get a Big Boost

  1. The comment that “While such facilities are able to deliver power more efficiently than rooftop solar panels, they are far more expensive.” isn’t quite accurate.

    Sandstone Energy 10X project will be 2,000 Megawatts of power will deliver 7,000,000 Megawatt-hours annually. The total amount of energy storage capability will be 20,000 megawatt-hours.

    Assuming 6 kW rooftop systems (the current average), $3.50/watt system costs (the current average), and a 17% capacity factor, the comparable amount of rooftop systems (without storage) would be 783,000 rooftops, and a cost of over $16 billion. Adding 20,000 megawatt-hours of battery storage to the rooftop systems would be an additional $10 – $12 billion.

    So while rooftop solar is great in many ways, it’s just not as cost effective as a large scale solar thermal plant with storage.

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