What’s Holding Back Concentrating Solar Power Projects In The U.S.?


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 projects.

A new report from IDC Energy Insights, called ‘Business Strategy: Make-It-or-Break-It Time for Concentrating Solar Power,’ evaluates the challenges faced by the industry and explains why – according to the company – it is too early to give up on CSP.

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, the report says. 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.

According to the report, 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,’ says 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,’ he says.

Although CSP projects enable high efficiencies and low costs, smaller projects are easier to site, permit and finance. In a separate report, IDC Energy Insights analyzes an innovative micro CSP project that uses technology optimized for projects in the 2 MW to 50 MW range. The approach, which incorporates two hours of thermal energy storage, attempts to bring the benefits of CSP to smaller, more manageable, and more financeable locations.

Image: An artist's rendering of BrightSource Energy's 392 MW Ivanpah solar project under construction in California. In January, Western Watersheds Project sued to stop the project's construction. Image credit: BrightSource Energy.

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