Concentrating Solar Power Technologies Compete With Photovoltaic

Emerging from an enforced hiatus by PV solar technologies, the global capacity of utility-scale Concentrating Solar Thermal Power  was 2 GW at the close of 2011 with approximately another 2500 to 3500 MW becoming operational in 2012. SBI Energy estimates the cost of the installed base of Concentrating Solar Thermal Power at the end of 2011 at $9.5 billion with power tower technology increasing its market share.

Four approaches to the collection and use of the sun’s heat energy are currently in use in CSP plants. Parabolic trough holds 93% of the installed base value. By 2015, that percentage is forecast to drop to 70% as power tower, also called central receiving station technology, becomes more common. The other two CSP technologies, linear Fresnel reflector and the Stirling engine/dish design, have only a few small projects going forward. CSP processes are known by several names: Concentrating or Concentrated Solar Power, Thermal Energy Storage, and Solar Thermal Power.

"Thermal energy storage (TES) became a big topic in 2011 with demonstrations of 24 hour generation at a plant in Spain less than four months after startup," notes SBI Energy analyst Jean Diener, author of Concentrating Solar Power (CSP), a global market research study just released. "Seven to eight hours of storage appears to be the norm for parabolic trough plants, with roughly an additional 10-11% of costs for the plant, but it can yield capacity factors over 50%, a key to profitability. Power towers operating at higher temperatures can achieve 10- 15 hours of storage at a slightly lower cost."

Further, CSP technology may be coupled with a traditional fossil-fuel plant to serve as daytime-demand power, or to decrease turbine sizing, or to meet regulatory requirements. Hybrid plants incorporate a solar energy fuel source with a more conventional one, typically natural gas as it is easy to transport to remote locations, doesn’t require the complicated material handling system of coal plants, is readily available in many places throughout the world and is cost competitive.

New development and construction activities will intensify in 2012 in Australia, India, and China. China has licensed technology from eSolar and plans to build 2 GW of combined CSP/biomass plants in the next decade. India too has created a 20 GW by 2020 solar wish list. Australia continues to study the technology and is building a world study center of power tower technology.

While some forecasters believe that US concentrating solar power capacity alone will reach 6 GW by 2015, SBI Energy’s analysis points to factors that suggest an installation rate consistent with the opportunities CSP represents, but is more indicative of current global economic and political realities.

SBI Energy’s new report, Concentrating Solar Power (CSP), provides market analysis and forecasts for the time periods 2012-2016 and 2017-2021 for utility-scale CSP plants and their components on a global basis at their point of manufacture. National markets are explored specifically for the United States and more generally for over 15 nations.