Feature

New markets for solar thermal power gain some momentum


edited by Gail Rajgor

Special report. Part 3. The solar thermal power market gained ground in 2012, with a number of new projects on the horizon.

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 2013 issue of Renewable Energy Focus (REFocus) magazine. For a free subscription, click here.

Part one - Summary

Part two - China continues its dominance of the global hydropower market

Part four - Support grows for Ocean Energy

Part five - Rush for PTC saw the US edge China out of wind market lead in 2012

Part six - US still dominated the electricity from biomass world market in 2012

Part seven - 2012 was average year of growth for geothermal but showed potential...

Part three - Solar Thermal Power (CSP)

The solar thermal power market continued its expansion in 2012. Altogether, 712MW of additional power capacity was connected to the grid, a substantial increase in comparison to 2011's 440MW. Cumulative installed capacity by the end of 2012 grew to 2.42GW.

Summary of the global solar thermal power markets, region by region, end of 2012
  Cumulated installed capacity 2012 (GW) Newly installed capacity 2012 (GW) Estimated electricity generation 2012 (TWh/year)
Europe 1.81 0.70 3.6
North America 0.52 0.01 1
World Total
2.42 0.71 4.6
Largest National Market 1.81 (Spain) 0.70 (Spain)  

Once again, almost all of the newly commissioned power capacity was in Spain (700MW), taking the country's cumulative capacity to 1803MW, mainly distributed in Andalucia and Extremadura. The Spanish market remained driven by the feed-in tariff regulation published in May 2007 (RD 661/2007) North America's contribution was just 7MW in 2012, but there are several hundred megawatts under construction so the contribution of the US market will be much higher in 2013.

Due to its bankability, the most popular Concentrating Solar Power (CSP) technology remains parabolic trough, with approximately 93% market share of the power capacity installed. By 2015 this value is expected to decrease to 70%, with power tower plants gaining share in the CSP market thanks to the capability to reach higher process temperatures. By end 2012 just 61.5MW of tower power plants were installed, but 630MW are under construction with scheduled commissioning dates in 2013 and 2014.

While Fresnel technology remains the least-implemented form of CSP, 2012 was a great year for it. A remarkable project was commissioned, the Puerto Errado 2 (PE2), a 30MW solar thermal power station built by Novatec Solar using its proprietary solar field technology. It is the largest CSP plant using Fresnel Technology Worldwide so far.

Cost pressures

Pressure on the CSP market persists, especially from cost competitive PV installations. An indicator for this competition is the change of technology in initially assigned CSP projects that turned into PV projects. Such projects include:

  • the Blythe project which changed from parabolic trough to PV technology;
  • the Imperial Valley and Calico projects were changed from dish-stirling to PV.

The change from CSP to PV technology should be seen in both the market situation and the particular context of these projects (eg the failed business strategy and sunsequent insolvency of Solar Millenniumand the failed up-scaling of the Tessera dish technology respectively). Other key events of the year include:

  • Siemens announced it is pulling out of the solar business in 2012. It is now seeking for a buyer of the CSP branch formerly known as Solel.
  • Flagsol was a joint venture formed in 2007 between Solar Millennium and Ferrostaal to design and build solar-thermal plants; it developed four power projects in Spain and one in Egypt. Once Solar Millennium stated its insolvency it sold its Flagsol stake to Ferrostaal, which is also now expected to offload Flagsol, due to business strategy changes within the company.
  • Flabeg was another CSP firm that filed for bankruptcy. The German company (which manufactured mirrors for CSP projects) was actually based in Pennsylvania and received millions of dollars in financial assistance from federal and state governments for the Genesis Solar Energy Project and the Crescent Dunes Solar Energy Project. It is searching now new owners as well.

Positive news

The news for 2012 was not all bad however. Other big players made great steps forward though. For example, ACWA Power from Saudi Arabia is in a good position to move forward in the MENA region, while Spanish companies, Abengoa, Acciona, and Sener, are still in good standing.

2012 was also a record year for installed capacity, while the process of market diversification continues. New markets such as Morocco, India, South Africa and China gained momentum and old markets like Spain and the US stayed in place. However, as CSP projects move in 4-5 year timeframes, the installation figures reached are the result of the market conditions we saw in the past. In this context it is highly predictable that the market in Spain will reach a sudden stop and the market in the USA will face new challenges due to changing political and financial support schemes. The key highlights for the CSP market are:

  • Thanks to the Moroccan Solar Plan with the proposed 500MW Ouazarzate Solar Complex, Morocco represents a very promising country in North Africa. In September 2012 the Saudi developer ACWA won the contract for Ouazarzate Phase 1 to build and operate the first 160MW parabolic trough CSP plant with 3h storage. The tariff delivered by the consortium led by ACWA Power was €0.145/kWh, 28.8% lower than the one offered by the second nearest bidder.
  • The Tunisian Solar Plan consists of all kinds of projects from renewable energy sources. Currently there is no CSP plant in the country under construction or in operation. However several projects are under development. STEG is developing a 50MW plant at Akarit, SITEP is developing a tower plant at El Borma and TuNur is developing 2GW at Rjim Maatoug, certified by the Desertec Foundation. The Desertec Industrial Intitiative (Dii) developed further smaller reference projects in Tunesia, but also larger ones in Morocco and Algeria. The most advanced of those are the reference projects in Morocco, however all of these projects still have a long way to go until implementation.
  • In Egypt, so far only one CSP plant is in operation, the ISCC Kuraymat Solar Thermal Power Plant (140 MW, with 20 MW solar power). A pure CSP plant is also under development: the CSP Kom Ombo Project (100 MW).
  • Jordan's parliament is intending to move to renewable energies through a system of feed-in-tariffs (FiTs) introduced by Jordan's Electricity Regulatory Commissions in April 2012 for PV and CSP, ending when the installed capacity reaches 500MW. The prices for CSP are fixed at US$0.183/kWh.
  • China is a potential market for CSP – it hopes to develop its own technology. Research facilities are in place, such as the 1MW Yanqing Solar Thermal Power Station (commissioned in 2010) or the 1.5MW Beijing Badaling Solar Tower, which was commissioned in August 2012. Furthermore there are some projects under construction, such as the 50MW Delingha Solar Tower Power Plant, the 100MW Golmud 100MW Parabolic Trough Plant, the 50MW Erdos Parabolic Trough Solar Power Plant and the 92MW Ningxia ISCC Plant.
  • The US is forecast for an 120% increase in its installed capacity between 2013 and 2014 and close in on Spain. In 2012 the US had 572MW installed and five CSP plants were under construction with a combined capacity of 1319 MW. These include Solana (280MW) with six hours of storage and Mojave Solar Project (280MW) located in Arizona and California, respectively; both promoted by Abengoa and using parabolic trough technology. Ivanpah is the largest plant under construction. At with 370MW, it is being developed by BrightSource Energy in California, employing superheated steam tower technology. Solar Reserve is constructing the Crescent Dunes Solar Energy 110MW molten salt tower project with ten hours of molten salt storage.
  • Saudi Arabia announced a massive construction of solar projects through King Abdullah City for Atomic and Renewable Energy (KACARE): 41GW of installed capacity by 2032, of this 16GW of PV and 25GW of solar thermal power.
  • Also on the Arabian Peninsular, in the UAE, the three phase Shams solar power station, located approximately 120 kilometers southwest of Abu Dhabi City, is a CSP plant of note. Construction on the 100MW Shams 1 was completed at the end of 2012, with commissioning taking place earlier this year. Shams 1 is the largest plant in the world using parabolic trough technology to date.
  • South Africa entered the solar thermal market in 2012 with the construction of two plants. Both scheduled to be finished in 2014, they are Kaxu Solar One (100MW parabolic trough with three hour storage) and Khi Solar One (50MW solar power tower with two hours thermal storage). They will be located in Northern Cape Province near Upington and Pofadder, respectively. Abengoa won the PPAs in the first round of the REFIT programme and will construct, operate and maintain both plants, owning the 51% majority share; IDC holds 29% and the Black Economic Empowerment programme maintains the remaining 20%. In the second round of government tenders a PPA was awarded for the Bokpoort plant (50MW parabolic trough) to be developed by Saudi's ACWA.
  • An initiative taken by the Government of India, Jawaharlal Nehru National Solar Mission, was born with the aim of helping solar energy take off in this country. In its second phase the purpose is to achieve 10GW connected to the network by 2017. The first projects, with 50MW capacity in Rajasthan and Gujarat, are now under construction.

The 100MW Shams 1 CSP plant in the Western Region of Abu Dhabi was officially opened earlier this year.

Although in 2012 the majority of CSP plants in the world were connected to the grid in Spain, the Spanish government is applying some regulatory changes that will certainly cut revenues for plant operators, especially when those using gas as an additional source for power generation. The measures comprise a 7% tax to the income of CSP plants, a new reference index to update FiTs annually and the withdrawal of the pool + premium option whilst more cuts are to be applied. Nevertheless, in total, there are 2527MW under construction that will be finished between 2013 and 2014.

One of the innovative projects in 2012 was the launch of the first commercial hybrid plant that combines solar and biomass energy. The €153mn Borges Solar Thermal plant, located in Catalonia, has a power capacity of 22.5MW. It was constructed in 20 months. The partners of the project were Abantia and COMSA EMTE. Another outstanding project was the start of commercial operation of Puerto Errado 2 (PE2), the largest CSP plant using Fresnel technology with 30MW of power capacity. The plant was constructed by Novatec Solar.

In Thailand, German company Solarlite constructed and commissioned a 5MW direct steam power plant together with the company Thai Solar Energy. The project was developed by Siasol and is eligible to the official FiT. It is a landmark in the technological development of CSP plants because it is the first commercial direct steam facility based on parabolic trough technology.

Room for improvement

The CSP market needs to realise significant cost reductions for utility-scale plants in order to make them profitable and allow its deployment in a time of low price PV modules. With PV technology much less expensive than CSP, the key selling argument for CSP remains energy storage. Although PV plants can also store electrical energy in batteries, this option is disadvantageous due to high prices and short lifetimes. The further development of storage systems for CSP plants is vitalthen for a permanent larger share of solar technology in the market of electricity generation. Furthermore CSP can be directly integrated to thermal processes in the oil, gas and chemical industry.

The key areas where CSP cost reductions need to be achieved generally are in the solar field, the heat transfer fluid, the storage system, the power block and the balance of costs. In order to reduce the production costs of the electricity, the Thermal Energy Storage (TES) systems need constant improvement. The Thermochemical Energy Storage has the advantage, in comparison with the latent and sensible systems, to store the energy with high density and is the most promising system under development. Research of this kind of storage is focused on improvements of the chemical reaction and dealing with storage materials issues.

Regarding the storage system new improvements on the molten salts were made. Norwegian company Yara International identified the potassium calcium nitrate as a promising storage material. The advantages of it are lower melting point at 91°C and lower grade of corrosion than the conventional molten salts used in CSP applications (see page 38, Renewable Energy Focus, January/February 2013).

Another component which plays a key role to reduce the global cost of the CSP plants is the mirror material. The goal is to achieve better reflectivity and also better market prices. SCHOTT Solar designed a receiver with a new coating which increases the degree of absorption to over 95.5 % and the thermal radiation has been reduced to less than 9.5%.

Thermal applications

Apart from electricity generation, CSP technology has a great and nearly untapped application potential in thermal processes, such as the mining industry, cooling and the enhanced oil recovery (EOR). The mining industry is one of the largest energy consumers in Chile, for example, and presents a great market potential for CSP covering part of the energy demand (more than 55% of the diesel fuel consumption) in the extraction and production processes. The copper production is estimated to increase 7mn tons in 2020, thus 32.7GWh demand is expected by 2020 in comparison with 18.8GWh in 2009. A first installation has already been realised by Abengoa with a 14MW solar thermal plant with thermal energy storage for Minera El Tesoro.

In Qatar, where air condition use is very high, Fresnel solar thermal receivers were installed at a soccer stadium to produce cool air by thermally driven absorption chillers. Meantime, there are currently two facilities commissioned in 2011 using CSP for EOR, Chevron's Coalinga (29 MWth) developed by BrightSource with pressurised steam solar power tower technology and Berry Petroleum EOR plant (300 kW) developed by GlassPoint. The latter oil giant Royal Dutch Shell as well as RockPort Capital, Nth Power, and Chrysalix Energy Venture Capital.

Research

Several new CSP technology research facilities were commissioned in 2012. A Molten Salt Loop Test facility was installed at the Sandia National Laboratories in Albuquerque, New Mexico, for example. The facility allows improvements in the efficiency and higher-temperatures operation for linear Fresnel and trough systems through utilisation of molten salt Heat Transfer Fluid.

Another new research facility was built in Almeria (Spain) by Advanced Technology Center for Renewables Energies. The objective here is to study how a variable geometry central receiver works and how it improves the system efficiency keeping the cosine of the angle of incidence as close to 1 as possible during the day changing the position.

Part 4 - Support grows for Ocean Energy

The REMIPEG databank

With its Renewable Electricity Market, Installed Power and Annual Electricity Generation (REMIPEG), German engineering firm Lahmeyer International has tracked the implementation of renewable electricity capacity around the world since 2008, updating its database annually, with Renewable Energy Focus then publishing the results.

Providing totals for newly installed plant, cumulative capacity, and estimated electricity generation output, country-by-country, for each renewable energy generation source, the databank is compiled using publicly available information along with expert information from consultants in the field.

The authors of the REMIPEG report are Dr. Andreas Wiese, Dr. Patric Kleineidam, Kuno Schallenberg, Florian Remann, Thorben Gunkel, Camilo Varas, Holger Zebner, Gildas Courtet, and Sergi Pedra from Lahmeyer International GmbH; Andrea Stooßa from the Institute of Environmental Technology and Energy Economics, Hamburg University of Technology, and Stadtreinigung Hamburg; and Martin Kaltschmitt, also from the Institute of Environmental Technology and Energy Economics, Hamburg University of Technology.

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