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How Valuable Is Concentrating Solar Power to the Grid?

Science & Tech  (tags: energy, environment, sustainable, solar power, solar energy, research, science, discovery, concept, design, technology )

- 1862 days ago -
Concentrating Solar Power (CSP) is very valuable to the grid, especially when it is capable of providing "operating reserves," or short-term extra capacity in times of high demand or failures in other parts of the grid.

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Michael O (176)
Sunday May 12, 2013, 12:29 pm
By Dave Levitan

The Ivanpah solar plant in the Mojave Desert marches ever closer to its official opening this summer. That plant, a huge concentrating solar power (CSP) facility using mirrors aimed at central towers, will join others in Spain, Abu Dhabi, and elsewhere. So there's a sizeable capacity potential for CSP, but is the technology worth it? When Ivanpah and a number of other plants were designed or suggested, photovoltaic prices hadn't dropped off the map just yet, so the economics of building plants that concentrated light seemed reasonable. That has since changed and PV is incredibly cheap, and the actual value CSP provides has yet to really be quantified. A recent analysis from the National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL) tries to do that—specifically in California, though the methodology can certainly be used elsewhere.

The basic answer is that CSP is very valuable to the grid, especially when it is capable of providing "operating reserves," or short-term extra capacity in times of high demand or failures in other parts of the grid. The value is essentially based on how much fossil fuel-based generation can be avoided through the use of CSP; the NREL researchers compared a baseline scenario to photovoltaics, CSP alone, and CSP with operating reserves. CSP beats out the baseline scenario by about US $6 per megawatt-hour, and by $12 per MWh over PV.

By using operating reserves, though, those differences increase fairly dramatically: CSP wins in that case by $22 per MWh over baseload and $29 per MWh over PV. Interestingly, running CSP plants with operating reserves would mean a shift in standard practice: generally, these plants are run at full capacity whenever the sun shines, but to provide operating reserves would mean running at only partial capacity some of the time and then ramping up when needed.

This analysis was conducted solely for the California grid, and was based on the state's renewable energy portfolio standard calling for 33 percent of electricity from renewables by 2020. The same method, though, could be extended to other regions as well. And quantifying CSP's value may help it continue to grow, given some recent struggles; BrightSource Energy, the Ivanpah plant's developer, has shelved a full gigawatt of further CSP plans this year alone thanks to cost and other issues. PV is cheap these days, but can't incorporate storage using molten salts or other ideas the way CSP can, and clearly doesn't add value to the overall grid the way CSP does. To really scale up renewables we will need both in huge amounts, but understanding CSP's value is an important step toward its expansion.


Roger G (154)
Sunday May 12, 2013, 1:32 pm
noted, thanks!

mag.w.d. Aichberger (34)
Sunday May 12, 2013, 1:38 pm
Lets be honest:
What "solar" and other forms of so-called (and more than less but far from really) "renewables" are most valuable for -- is help people stay in denial, help pretend that we (ie. humankind) can go on without having to seriously reduce our consumption (and our numbers)
... so we have all these GREAT blurbs about how great e.g. the increase (here&there) in solar and (possibly) promising "new discoveries and inventions" in this and that detail of said not-quite-so-unsustainable-methods
... while in reality consumption and waste of fossiles has NOT stopped growing and hardlkky any nukes (except the molten-down ones) have been switched off and still more of them are being built ...

mag.w.d. Aichberger (34)
Sunday May 12, 2013, 1:42 pm
> To really scale up renewables
...doesn't help us the least, if (FOSSIL+nuclear) aren't scaled down.
And scaled down not a little bit but by ~80%, starting last year.
" It's always the same: it's not 'the economy' and not the market being ecologized, but 'ecology' being merchandized. Nothing gained. Quite the contrary. 'Economy' basking in their 'ecological awareness'. [my transl.]
[Orig.:] Es ist immer dasselbe: Nicht die Wirtschaft und nicht der Markt werden ökologisiert, sondern die Ökologie wird vermarktet. Gewonnen ist nichts. Im Ggenteil. Die Wirtschaft sonnt sich in ihrem Umweltbewusstsein."
-- Hans A. Pestalozzi "Auf die Bäume ihr Affen [Up into the Trees You Apes]" (1989) ISBN 3729603132 S.288

David C (129)
Sunday May 12, 2013, 1:57 pm
any solar power seems valuable to in MN, I am saddened to say our state politicians are arguing whether we should require 1% or 4% of our power to be solar (of any kind) in the coming decade.........

if we had the will, the money and commitment we could provide enough energy for all our energy needs by harvesting the sunlight that hits our world.....still don't know how we would do air travel, but I could see getting us off liquid energy cars/trains/houses/buildings at least....

Alan Lambert (91)
Sunday May 12, 2013, 3:50 pm
Solar is a good thing no matter whether it's concentrated or not.

Birgit W (160)
Monday May 13, 2013, 2:17 pm
Thanks. I like solar power.

DaleLovesOttawa O (198)
Monday May 13, 2013, 8:56 pm
There should be many more initiatives into solar power.

Inge B (202)
Wednesday May 15, 2013, 12:35 am
aircraft can be powered by solar energy too.

Past Member (0)
Saturday May 18, 2013, 5:28 am
Thanks for sharing this article.

Melania Padilla (122)
Tuesday May 28, 2013, 10:17 am

Sergio Padilla (65)
Tuesday May 28, 2013, 3:33 pm

Klaus Peters (14)
Friday June 7, 2013, 7:58 am
I have solar panels on my roof, enough for me and also to sell to the grid. I have done my bit.

Ruth R (246)
Wednesday December 25, 2013, 5:18 am
So cool that we could do this on a very small scsle -- as solar cookers and that size in our back yards -- must know what we are doing though ! Do not ply with matches and do not play with electricity,
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