Feature

Renewable Power Generation - 2010 figures


David Hopwood

Special report. Part five: Solar CSP – strong 2010, but at a crossroads...

About the article: This special Renewable Energy Focus power generation focus previews REMIPEG's latest update, carried out in the first four months of 2011 by Lahmeyer International, and presents an overview for each renewable power sector, based on scenarios up to the end of 2010.

This article is taken from the July/August issue of Renewable Energy Focus (REFocus) magazine. For a free subscription, click here.

IN TOTAL, 551 MW of solar thermal electricity came onto the grid in 2010, bringing the total installed capacity to 1,224 MW (by the end of that year). This meant an increase of around 210% of newly installed capacity, compared to 2009 figures. In terms of installations then, 2010 can be considered the most successful year for CSP since its invention.

However, this figure is just a fraction of the vast number of CSP projects in the pipeline (around 8,234 GW), and projects invariably take longer to push through than anticipated.

The industry continues to face many challenges (Ed - and this continues into 2011/2012), not least project bankability, something that has killed off a number of CSP projects in recent times (such as a 92 MW facility that had been planned by the El Paso Electric Co., in Santa Teresa – New Mexico. This was abandoned when finance couldn't be found - in fact the utility now plans to build a 20 MW PV facility instead.)

As Renewable Energy Focus reported in an article written by Dr. Andy Skumanich in the January/February issue, the CSP industry appears to be at a turning point. There have been recent positive developments for the sector; for example the 370 MW Ivanpah plant (U.S., BrightSource Energy – the largest CSP plant under construction in the world) is predicted to come online in 2012; Spain is looking to CSP as an important part of its energy mix (and Andasol III continues to progress); and several other U.S. projects have recently been awarded Loan Guarantees – The Mojave Solar Project (MSP) and the Genesis Solar Project (250 MW each).

But challenges remain. The primary one is the ‘bad luck’ of the global economic squeeze which made access to capital very restricted (though the U.S. loan guarantees do help). The next element is competition from PV: prices are coming down, and proving their viability with an ever-expanding track record of large-scale installations. The third element is that CSP projects are typically larger-scale and require major amounts of not just money, but time for building, and regulatory review (not to mention land permits etc).

Summary of the global solar CSP market, data up until the end of 2010 (various sources; Lahmeyer estimates)
  Cumulated installed capacity 2010 (GW) Newly installed capacity 2010 (GW) Estimated electricity generation 2010 (TWh/year)
Europe 0.74 0.455 1.3
North America 0.48 0.078 1
Africa ~0 ~0 <0.1
World total 1.224
0.551
2.3
Largest national market Spain 0.73 Spain 0.455  

However, there are still reasons for optimism, especially if the industry can reduce the costs of bolting thermal storage solutions onto CSP plants, something that will give the technology a major unique selling point compared to Solar PV, not to mention other variable renewable sources. In fact as we go to press, the Gemasolar CSP plant (Spain, Torresol) has successfully generated power for 24 hours non stop - due to its molten salt storage solution. This is a big step forward for the CSP industry.

The biggest project which connected to the grid in 2010 was the hybrid solar power plant at Martin Next Generation Solar Energy Center (U.S.). Solar energy supplies 75 MW of the total 3,705 MW – the rest is generated by combined cycle gas plant (such an approach of CSP/Gas hybrid is one that is attracting interest from utilities).

In addition, 9 CSP plants (50 MW each) were commissioned in Spain, providing the largest share of the 551 MW of new installed 2010 CSP capacity. A number of these were constructed with thermal storage systems (as mentioned above) giving the plants the key advantage of being (almost) able to supply baseload power – but at an extra cost. This is one of the key areas for research in CSP; how to make the cost of thermal storage cheaper.

The largest complex of CSP power plants remain the Spanish Andasol plants (3, each rated at 50 MW, of which 100 MW - Andasol I and II - are commissioned already; Andasol III is under construction).

In Italy the Archimede solar plant with a total capacity of 5 MW was officially inaugurated in summer 2010. It uses molten salt as the heat transfer fluid, within heat pipes of the parabolic troughs.

Also of note is the first commercial CSP plant in Northern Africa - the ISCC in Ain Beni Mathar - of which 20 MW is generated from the solar field (it was officially inaugurated in 2011).

In Abu Dhabi, UAE, the 100 MW Shams 1 plant is the largest CSP plant under construction in the Middle East. The plant broke ground in Q3, 2010. Other countries in the region are examining the potential of CSP due to high insolation, but the Gulf Region does have challenges that make developers cautious. The weather can be more severe, than, say the Mojave Desert, with reduced irradiation due to aerosols in the air, not to mention regular sand storms, meaning that mirrors need to be cleaned much more frequently.

The DII initiative (Desertec), though still ‘visionary’ in nature – and hence actual projects are unlikely to happen any time soon – is focusing activities on the MENA region, notably North Africa. An inaugural pilot project has been announced (a 500 MW project in Morocco, with a 400 MW CSP component – and the remainder being based on PV technology). DII's further focus is on Tunisia, Algeria and Egypt.

In the U.S., many large projects were finally approved, like the 370 MW solar tower park Ivanpah Solar (already mentioned above), the 250 MW parabolic trough Abengoa Mojave Solar Project and the 1 GW Blythe project from Solar Millenium. Those projects even achieved “fast-track” priority from the Bureau of Land Management (BLM).

Looking further east, India is putting in a place a major strategy, the National Solar Mission, with the aim of connecting 1,000 MW to the grid by 2013, and 20 GW by 2022. Critics have pointed out that the first 7 CSP projects were permitted using a reverse bidding process, in which the bidders eventually offered a LCOE price to the regulator which was far less than international energy prices. This will be a tough ask in terms of project economics, not to mention time, as the National's Mission schedule wants plants commissioned by 2013.

The largest market in 2010 remained Spain, but if plants under development in the U.S. come to fruition, the U.S. should ultimately surpass Spain. This is still the case, even if the two biggest U.S. projects (the 850 MW dish-stirling Calico Solar Energy Project and the 709 MW Imperial Valley Solar Project) are sold and converted to PV projects – something that has been rumoured.

If this does happen, dish-stirling as a potential CSP technology would suffer a major blow. Parabolic Trough technology is still favoured, though power tower projects have finally appeared, and it will be interesting to see whether they can prove their advantages (higher heat etc). Linear-Fresnel is still a long way away from stand-alone, large-scale commercial demonstration plants.

Despite the fact that all studies foresee falling prices for CSP, this still does not seem to be happening in practice. In Spain, for example, where most projects are planned and commissioned, anecdotal evidence show prices at a rather steady state or only very slightly falling in the various projects (source – Lahmeyer).

Part six: Setting the scene for biomass

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