Concentrated solar power has had its issues recently, but CSP Today’s, “CSP International Benchmarking 2013” report observes that 7.5 gigawatts of CSP plants are currently under construction or in operation today. Also another 8.5 gigawatts of plants are planned, or in pre-construction stages of development, which shows that interest in the solar thermal technologies like solar troughs and towers isn’t dead yet.
“While 16 GW is perhaps less than the accumulated installed capacity of other renewable technologies, this is still an important milestone for the development of CSP technologies and serves to consolidate the technology’s development,” the paper said. CSP Today launched the paper ahead of the CSP Today Enhanced Plant Engineering 2013 meeting in Sevilla, Spain that will be held in November.
CSP growth has been hampered somewhat by the precipitous drop in the cost of PV over the past few years as well as the ease of installing photovoltaics in projects anywhere from just a few kilowatts to 100s of megawatts. Also a number of prominent CSP companies have had to abandoned projects (most recently BrightSource’s Rio Mesa project) because of citing issues and legal challenges to the projects.
PV can also produce electricity in a greater variety of regions than CSP can. For CSP to get to the economies of scale where solar thermal projects make the most economic sense, most companies have focussed on making CSP projects in excess of 100 megawatts. Still, in the right regions with high direct normal radiation (i.e., high amounts of direct sunlight) CSP delivers impressive levelized costs of electricity can range from 14 cents per kilowatt hour to 36 cents per kilowatt hour, depending on whether or not a CSP system has energy storage.
The report was designed to explain where CSP is today, where the opportunities are and what challenges it faces. “The current international situation has changed substantially during the last few years,” the report stated. “Initially only two main markets (Spain and the USA) were deploying CSP technology within a regulatory and financial framework created to minimize risks and to promote the learning curve.” However, more countries have and are developing renewable energy that include CSP technologies, based on the experience in Spain and the U.S.
Looking forward, the report anticipated that, “The MENA region and USA have the highest number of MWs under development, with a total of more than 3,000 MW.” The report looked deeper into CSP throughout the world and how countries ranging from India to Australia and Africa. While the report anticipated a bright future for CSP, it's still got a far way to catch up to PV. At the end of 2012, the world had an accumulative 100 gigawatts of PV installed.