Concentrated solar power may experience a “Renaissance” in 2011

`That’s according to a new report from Lux Research, Inc., which released “The Market for Concentrated Solar Power is Hot and Getting Hotter” on Feb 1. The report found that after a long hibernation, large-scale concentrated solar systems will really start taking off in the U.S. and throughout the world this year.

The report said, “It is clear, heading into 2011, that despite declining PV [i.e., photovoltaic] prices and a multitude of environmental and financing concerns, solar thermal technologies are here to stay and that the generation stack of the future will increasingly incorporate concentrating solar power (CSP) plants in excess of 100 MW.”

It’s been a long time coming.

“For the first time in 20 years, concentrated solar power is coming back in the U.S. In 2011, we’re starting to see the first [new developments],” said report author and Lux Senior Analyst Ted Sullivan.

The report looked at the three major forms of concentrated solar power: solar towers, solar troughs and heliostat (solar dish) systems with Stirling engines.

In the executive summary, the report said the goal of each technology is to produce electricity at the “lowest possible levelized cost of electricity (LCOE).” Lowering the LCOE of the technologies ensures an easier sale of generated electricity and allows them to compete better with natural gas projects, the report said.

It concluded that dish systems with Stirling engines had the lowest LCOE. That’s despite the troubles that large-scale Stirling projects have experienced in reaching the development stage. For instance, Tessera Solar’s bid to build a SunCatcher farm in Colorado’s San Luis Valley is still stuck in hearing stages, and the company abandoned its 850 MW Calico Solar Project in California.

“Most [new projects] are troughs. A few out there are power towers. The Stirling is certainly the minority,” said Sullivan.

He explained that the Stirling dish technology is not proven as thoroughly as is trough technology. So far, there have only been small-scale installations of Stirling power stations.

“Mainly just a few heliostats he said.” Meanwhile, the world’s largest solar power plant in operation is the 350 megawatt SEGS plant in California, which has been operating for more than 20 years.

And solar power towers were tested in the U.S. and have experienced their own renaissance in Spain in recent years.