Renewable Power Generation - 2011 figures

edited by Gail Rajgor

Special report. Part five - Cost drivers fuel technology switch for concentrated solar

About the article: This special Renewable Energy Focus power generation focus previews REMIPEG's latest update, carried out in the first four months of 2012 by Lahmeyer International, and presents an overview for each renewable power sector, based on scenarios up to the end of 2011.

This article is taken from the July/August 2012 issue of Renewable Energy Focus (REFocus) magazine. For a free subscription, click here.

Part one - introduction (click here).

Part two - hydropower falls behind wind and biomass as growth dips

Part three - Wind market still on the up and dominated by China

Part four - 2011 strong year for solar PV despite support subsidies being slashed

STOP PRESS - SEE ALSO Year in review 2012: Solar PV, by Paula Mints.

Part five - CSP

WORLDWIDE, 1709MW of solar thermal electricity was connected to the grid by the end of 2011, with 440MW of it installed last year. This was slightly down on the 510MW installed in 2010. And with unstable political and financial frameworks at play, 2011 saw Solar Millennium, one of the sector's pioneering companies file for insolvency, while further development of project pipelines has been difficult for most concentrated solar power (CSP) construction companies.

Spain continues to lead the CSP market, accounting for 84% of the new capacity connected to the grid in 2011 and 65% of the cumulative installed world tally (see table). In addition, around 1GW of new plant is planned or under construction in the country.

Activity is expected to pick up in other countries however, with new projects planned for development within the next five years in the US (4GW), North Africa (3GW), Middle East (1GW), South Africa (0.5GW), Australia (0.3GW), China (1GW), and India (1GW). Of these, the US is ahead with 1GW now under construction and slated for completion in the next two years.

Landmark US projects include ISEGS in Ivanpah, California, a three-unit 370MW plant based on tower technology with direct steam generation, and Abengoa Solar's 250 MW Solana solar project in Arizona, which will feature two parabolic trough technology units with molten salt storage.

A major initiative is the Desertec (Dii) programme and its first major reference project under development includes a 400MW CSP component, of which the first 150MW is realistically expected. Similar Desertec-type ideas with gigawatts of CSP (and PV) capacity, such as the Golden desert project and the Asian Supergrid, both in China, have also caught the industry's attention.

A key point to note is that India and China are targeting significantly lower costs than so far seen in Spain or the US. In India, rates for the first round of CSP projects range between US$0.19-0.22/kWh, which is more than 40% lower than prices in Spain. It is a cost trend supported by the results of the first Masen CSP tender in Morocco (announced in the first quarter 2012).

Price reductions drive technology choices

The prevailing prototype is the 50MW parabolic trough plant with 15% additional gas. But with competition from cheap PV systems one of the biggest issues for the industry, innovative tower and Fresnel technologies are gaining more interest because they promise significant price reductions in comparison to trough technology.

Of the CSP plants operating at end 2011, 95% are based on parabolic technology. This figure drops to 75 % for plants currently under construction, while tower projects account for 18 % and Fresnel technology another 6 %.

Storage is becoming more important for CSP projects to show a clear difference to PV. Last year, 270MW of CSP with storage was commissioned. The molten salt power tower Project Gemasolar (pictured above), with 17MW capacity and 17hr storage, is of particular note. The high concentration ratio of the tower enables high temperatures (∼800°C) that allow high efficiencies in the subsequent Rankine Cycle. Thanks to the huge storage capacity, power production at nominal load is almost possible on a 24/7 basis (low irradiation in winter may limit production for a couple of days). The initial operational data is promising and so global attention on this particular technology is increasing.

Another highlight in 2011 was the start of commercial operation for two integrated solar combined cycle projects: Hassi R'Mel in Algeria and Kuraymat in Egypt. Both have a total capacity of 150MW, of which about 25MW could be generated from the sun at design conditions. Over the course of the year the solar irradiation levels change according to daily and seasonal cycles, which lead to a solar share of about 5%.

Finally, the purely thermal market – CSP for industrial heat supply and cooling processes – is also gaining more attention.

Spain shows the right way forward for CSP

Solar thermal power, or concentrated solar power (CSP), can make a sizeable impact on the world's renewable energy industry, if governments across the globe can maintain supporting policies, says a new report by alternative energy analysts GBI Research.

The firm's latest report, Solar Thermal Power Market to 2020 – Utilities to Drive Future Developments in the Concentrated Solar Power (CSP) Market, published in late July, cites government attitudes to CSP as a key determinant to the future success of the relatively young market, which is currently characterised by the high cost of power generation and the challenges of achieving economies of scale. “Government provisions can push forward technological advances and boost installations, which will in turn lower the expense of both project investment and power generation,” notes GBI.

This can be seen in Spain, which leads the CSP market with 65% of the total installed capacity, and the US, which comes in second at 33%, according to the firm. In both countries, the CSP industry benefits from Feed-In Tariffs (FITs), which guarantee premium prices, per kilowatthour of output, over a fixed period of time.

The regulatory framework in the US has also established mandates for utility companies to purchase electricity from renewable sources for domestic consumption. Similarly, the Spanish government has tax rebates for renewable energy investments, and as a result these two countries hold the greatest share of the global solar thermal power market.

“Spain only entered the CSP market in 2007, with the construction of the 11MW PS10 solar tower. Since then the country has raced ahead of the pack and in 2011 boasted a total installed CSP capacity of 1002.2 MW – the largest amount in the world by a significant margin,” says GBI.

Since the US first ventured into CSP back in 1985, growth has been relatively modest but GBI predicts: “With redoubled commitment, the country's CSP market will increase from 508.5 MW in installed capacity in 2011 to 25,815 MW by 2020, climbing at a Compound Annual Growth Rate (CAGR) of 63%.” Its forecast, it says, is based on US plans to commission numerous major CSP plants throughout the next decade, including the La Posa Solar Thermal plant and the Ranegras plant, both based in Arizona.

GBI Research additionally highlights the emerging economies China, India and the United Arab Emirates as drivers of the CSP market. “These nations are recognising the importance of solar energy as a means of achieving energy security and stability – particularly at a time when fossil fuel reserves are depleting and becoming more costly with additional measures to reduce carbon emissions.,” it says. “Many of these countries are also attempting to reduce carbon emissions and are looking to renewables as an alternative.

Solar thermal power projects in the pipeline mean the global CSP market is expected to grow from a 2011 installed capacity total of 1546 MW to 47,462.9 MW in 2020, climbing at a Compound Annual Interest Rate (CAGR) of 44%.

Summary of the global solar thermal power markets, region by region, end of 2011
  Cumulated installed capacity 2011 (GW) Newly installed capacity 2011 (GW) Estimated electricity generation 2011 (TWh/year)
Europe 1.11 0.37 2.00
North America 0.51 0 1
Asia 0.02 0.02 0.04
Africa 0.07 0.05 0.15
World total 1.71
Largest National Market Spain 1.10 Spain 0.37  


Part six (out soon):

Share this article

More services


This article is featured in:
Policy, investment and markets  •  Solar electricity


Comment on this article

You must be registered and logged in to leave a comment about this article.