The true value of Concentrated Solar Power technology


----Discussions at the SolarPACES 2018 conference

by Alina Gilmanova

SolarPACES is a unique conference where all CSP minds from around the globe are gathered together in one place. These professionals, coming from different backgrounds, bring the possibility to innovate the sector from various perspectives. While the presentations are important and highly informative, what really matters are the small informal chats had between the attendees. The most valuable opinions are always from those who were in the CSP sector since the beginning: "30 years ago, we hadn't even dreamed of seeing 6 GW of total installed capacity deployed" - said Rafael Osuna, who has been working in the CSP sector for more than 30 years. "CSP is one of the few technologies which has survived its own death many times already" - noted Fred Morse (an industry veteran working with CSP for over 40 years).

Indeed, though the CSP sector doesn't have such a long history, it has already experienced many ups and downs, most recently with the crash of PV prices in 2012. Nowadays the CSP sector has reemerged in many developing countries, such as China, South Africa, Chile, and Morocco, among others. Yet, it still has difficulties competing with other renewable energy resources.

During this conference many speakers emphasized the value of CSP towards the grid, and the inadequacy of the current LCOE approach, based only on cost effectiveness. First, Cédric Philibert from the IEA announced that in the upcoming World Energy Outlook 2018, a new concept of value adjusted LCOE will be introduced, which will help to compare different energy sources based on the benefits it brings to the grid. If more intermittent energy sources are to be integrated with the grid, more firm and continuous power will be required.

“We need to compare apples with apples, i.e., the systems that first store, and then dispatch the power from 5 to 8pm”, later added Luis Crespo, from ESTELA. The CSP, with Thermal Energy Storage (TES), can respond to the “duck curve”, and deliver peak load or be extended to the baseload, increasing its competition with gas combine cycles and coal plants. The discussions about the value of CSP continued at the Policy and Market session with the presentation of Jose Manuel Nieto, from STA. He stated that: "Relying only on intermittent energy sources with batteries leads to unstable systems. While, a mixed scenario with batteries and CSP can lead to full renewable energy system, with CSP substituting the role of traditional fossil fuel generators.

During the same session Johan Lilliestam presented his paper about the Chinese CSP sector, which "changed the outlook for the technology from gloomy to better than ever". The support of the Chinese government for the CSP sector with Feed in Tariff was an important window of opportunity for the total growth of CSP power plants in recent years. The CGN 50 MW parabolic trough power plant in Delingha was the first one to be commissioned in China. It has 9 hours of storage, meaning the project will be an important platform to observe the benefit of the plant to the grid. More projects are expected to be commissioned in the next two years, bringing the Chinese CSP sector to the top of the newly added capacity of CSP generation. Based on that, the IEA updated its prediction of further CSP growth, up to 2023, with China taking the leading position with 1900MW, followed by Morocco's 730, and the United Arab Emirates 700.

Therefore, we might see in the future a new way of thinking regarding the cost of electricity, which will not only be based on capital costs versus total energy output, but also consider other factors that different technologies could offer to the grid. This approach will be an important step to actually change the most basic principles fairer game rules. If we want to phase out the use of fossil fuels, wind and PV alone will not be enough, and technologies such as CSP, are there to ensure that we will always have the lights on in our homes.

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