Make-or-Break Time for Concentrating Solar Power

The concentrating solar power (CSP) industry in North America has experienced setbacks in recent months, including a number of large CSP projects facing lawsuits or being replaced by solar photovoltaic (PV) projects.

A new report from IDC Energy Insights, Make-It-or-Break-It Time for Concentrating Solar Power, evaluates the challenges faced by the industry and states that it is too early to give up on CSP.

CSP systems use lenses or mirrors to concentrate large areas of sunlight, which convert to heat to drive a steam turbine connected to an electrical power generator, producing renewable electrical power.

Large CSP plants have been facing challenges due to the difficulty of siting them without disturbing environmentally or culturally sensitive lands, and the difficulty of financing projects that incorporate unproven technologies.

At the same time, CSP plants face serious competition from PV, as PV plants continue to drop in price, are relatively quick to permit and build, and investors are comfortable financing them.

Despite these challenges, CSP technology holds three advantages over PV technology that make it attractive for solar projects: it delivers higher quality power, it experiences fewer intermittency issues (and can go so far as to provide baseload power if storage is incorporated), and it has the potential to use integrated storage to align its output with peak demand periods.

"Over the next few years, it will be critical for the CSP industry to demonstrate technical viability and cost effectiveness, to gain the confidence of investors and expand its foothold in the market," said Jay Holman, research manager for IDC Energy Insights’ Renewable Energy Strategies research advisory service. "This means completing projects that are currently in the pipeline on time and on budget, while pursuing markets where they can extract a premium for the grid-friendly power CSP provides."

Earlier this week BrightSource Energy announced that it completed financing for its Ivanpah Project in California–the largest CSP plant being built in the world.

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