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CSP market set for 2011 solar boom

The market for concentrated solar power (CSP) will reach gigawatt scale this year, according to Lux Research.

By Isabella Kaminski

Lux Research says the CSP market is poised for “gigawatt-scale adoption” in 2011, and that future growth will remain healthy as CSP plants in excess of 100 MW are increasingly incorporated into generation stacks.

The report, Solar Thermal Update: The Renaissance of Concentrating Solar Power, compares the economics and performance of three key CSP technologies – parabolic trough, power tower, and Stirling thermal systems – as well as CSP’s main competitor, photovoltaic (PV) systems.

Lux Research examined the application of each technology in a hypothetical 100 MW plant, and compared their levelised cost of electricity (LCOE), capital costs and internal rate of return, as well as other factors affecting adoption.

According to the report, dish Stirling technology is the leader in LCOE and offers the lowest capital expenditures due to its cheap Stirling engines. The costly mirror fields of parabolic trough plants make them the priciest CSP options while, driven by high module costs, PV systems fall somewhere in the middle.

However, conventional trough and tower CSP technologies were found to lead in terms of performance. Parabolic trough plants have the highest peak efficiency but come second in yield and capacity factor, while power tower is the top performer on system yield and capacity factor due to a highly efficient turbine cycle and dual-axis tracking. Dish Stirling and PV, in contrast, both underperform, with lower capacity factors and lower energy yield in kilowatt-hours output per kilowatt of peak power.

Ted Sullivan, Senior Analyst at Lux Research and the report’s lead author, says: “After a few fits and starts, solar thermal projects have begun to make a big impact on the generation mix in both Spain and the Southwest US. Though trough technologies have been dominant to date, we expect power tower solutions to gain increasing prominence as the technology is proven, because their integration with thermal storage technologies smashes through the fundamental constraint that has held solar back to date – intermittency.”

Lux Research said that utilities and developers will need a clearer grasp of the economic and performance factors driving adoption of CSP’s four main technology contenders.

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