How storage will shape the future of concentrated solar power
After enjoying great fanfare last decade, concentrated solar power has gone out of vogue lately in the power sector, eclipsed by the rapid cost declines and proliferation of photovoltaic systems. But while the technology remains more expensive than PV in head-to-head comparisons of PPA price, a slate of new projects coming online with energy storage and dispatchable power capabilities points to a new way forward for the sector.
The technology is called concentrated solar power because the facilities take energy from the sun and focus it to produce heat, explained Sacramento Municipal Utility District (SMUD) Senior Project Manager Bud Beebe, the moderator of a CSP Panel at Solar Power International 2015 (SPI), the recently-concluded annual solar conference.
“It may be more accurate to describe it as taking energy from the sun and making it into stored high temperature heat energy that can be used for, among other things, generating electricity,” he said.
The three solar-to-steam towers that make up the 377 MW BrightSource Energy (BSE) Ivanpah Solar Electric Generating System are now providing electricity to Southern California Edison and Pacific Gas and Electric. The 280 MW Solana trough project with six hours of molten salts storage, built by Abengoa Solar, is sending electricity to Arizona Public Service (APS), and the 110 MW Crescent Dunes solar power tower with ten hours of molten salts storage will start sending generation to NV Energy next month.
With the long-overblown question of harms to migrating birds resolved by documentation showing the facilities have low to no biological impacts, the pioneering companies’ attention has turned to their real challenge.
“The biggest challenge U.S. CSP has, even with storage, is price,” explained SolarReserve CEO Kevin Smith.