Why Concentrated Solar Power is not a good choice for a 100% Renewable Energy System

Source: California Energy Commission. 2018 ISEGS Annual Compliance Report. Pages 464-469 https://efiling.energy.ca.gov/Lists/DocketLog.aspx?docketnumber=07-AFC-05C&fbclid=IwAR1LS4b6wYJQsflqi1job_1ix-xPgZkZ8v_AGsDP4iiiIEJSSzCD5hIxq-Q

Preface.  The authors conclude that:

In light of the obtained results — a low capacity factor and Energy Returned on Invested, an intensive use of materials—some scarce, and the significant seasonal intermittence) — the potential contribution of current CSP technologies in a future 100% RES system seems very limited.

And this just in from the California Energy Commission: Hailstones and Heliostats – The Ivanpah Solar Electric Generating System 2018 report was just released by the California Energy Commission.On July 29 of 2018, a major hailstorm damaged between 10,000 and 12,000 heliostats (reflector mirrors) of the 173,500 garage door-sized mirrors.  Replacing them will perhaps push Ivanpah into negative EROI territory. And it takes a lot of energy to move these mirrors around. Each mirror has a motor controlled by a computer, which angles the reflective surface to track the location of the sun.  All those moving parts make Ivanpah more challenging to maintain than static solar panels..

Also, Ivanpah has caught on fire: “A fire at one of the plant’s three towers on Thursday, which left metal pipes scorched and melted.”  Zhang, S. 2016. A Huge Solar Plant Caught on Fire, and That’s the Least of Its Problems. wired.com

Related articles:

2020-1-6 A $1 Billion Solar Plant Was Obsolete Before It Ever Went Online. Bloomberg (Crescent Dunes CSP has been shut down)

Alice Friedemann   www.energyskeptic.com  author of “When Trucks Stop Running: Energy and the Future of Transportation”, 2015, Springer and “Crunch! Whole Grain Artisan Chips and Crackers”. Podcasts: Practical Prepping, KunstlerCast 253, KunstlerCast278, Peak Prosperity , XX2 report

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Castro, C., et al. 2018. Concentrated Solar power: actual performance and foreseeable future in high penetration scenarios of renewable energies. Biophysical economics and resource quality.

Analyses proposing a high share of concentrated solar power (CSP) in future 100% renewable energy scenarios rely on the ability of this technology, through storage and/or hybridization, to partially avoid the problems associated with the hourly/ daily (short-term) variability of other variable renewable sources such as wind or solar photovoltaic. However, data used in the scienti?c literature are mainly theoretical values. In this work, the actual performance of CSP plants in operation from publicly available data from four countries (Spain, the USA, India, and United Arab Emirates) has been estimated for three dimensions: capacity factor (CF), seasonal variability, and energy return on energy invested (EROI).

The authors used real data from 34 CSP plants to find actual capacity factors, which were much lower than had been assumed.

OVERALL AVERAGE: ACTUAL CF 0.15–0.3, ASSUMED 0.25 to 0.75

CSP plant Technology Storage Hours Expected CF Literature CF Real CF
Nevada Solar One Parabolic 0.5 0.2 0.42–0.51 0.18
Solana Generating Parabolic 6 0.38 0.42–0.51 0.27
Genesis Parabolic No 0.26 0.25–0.5 0.28
Martin Next Generation Parabolic No 0.24 0.25–0.5 0.16
Mohave Parabolic No 0.24 0.25–0.5 0.21
SEGS III–IX Parabolic No   0.25–0.5 0.17
Crescent Dunes Tower 10 0.52 0.55–0.71 0.14
Ivanpah 1, 2, 3 Tower No 0.31 0.25–0.28 0.19
Maricopa Dish stirling No   0.25–0.28 0.19

Table 2 United States only, not shown: UAE, Spain, and India.  Estimates of the CF of several individual CSP plants, sets of plants and global USA and Spanish CSP systems: expected values from the industry, values used in the scientific literature and the results obtained in the work for real plants

In fact, the results obtained show that the actual performance of CSP plants is significantly worse than that projected by constructors and considered by the scientific literature in the theoretical studies:

low standard EROI of 1.3:1–2.4:1, 12 other researchers gave a range of 9.6 to 67.6 (see Table 7). Given that CSP plants cost more than any other kind of RES, it’s not surprising that the EROI is so low.

Other significant issues for CSP

  • intensive use of materials—some scarce
  • Substantial seasonal intermittence.

Conclusion

Analyses proposing a high share of CSP in future 100% RES scenarios rely on the ability of this technology, through storage and/or hybridization, to partially avoid the problems associated with the hourly/ daily (short-term) variability of other renewable variable sources, such as wind or PV.

But this advantage seems to be more than offset by the overall performance of real CSP plants. In fact, the results from CSP plants in operation, using publicly available data from four countries (Spain, the USA, India, and UAE) show that the actual performance of CSP plants is shown to be significantly worse than projected by the builders and in the scientific literature which has been using theoretical numbers.  In fact, the exaggeration in scientific literature is paradoxical given that there have been publicly available data for many power plants for years.

By overestimating the capacity factor, the life cycle analyses that estimate the energy and material requirements, EROI, environmental impacts, and economic costs are exaggerated as well.

The capacity factor turns out to be quite low, on the same order as wind and PV, CSP has very low EROI, intensive use of materials—some scarce—and significant seasonal intermittence problems, with seasonal variability worse than for wind or PV in Spain and the USA, where the output can be zero for many days in winter.

Since CSP has to be put in hot deserts with a lot of sunlight, they’re vulnerable to damage from wind, dust, sand, extreme temperatures, water scarcity, and more.

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2 Responses to Why Concentrated Solar Power is not a good choice for a 100% Renewable Energy System

  1. Red says:

    “using publicly available data from four countries (Spain, the USA, India, and UAE) show that the actual performance of CSP plants is shown to be significantly worse than projected by the builders and in the scientific literature which has been using theoretical numbers.”

    Where did I hear that before…..?

  2. steve c says:

    https://techxplore.com/news/2018-12-sun-renewable-energy-grid.html

    Just happened to run across this shortly after reading this post. I am not proposing that it provides a solution, just found the coincidence humorous. Our savior is always just around the corner.

    Note that the last sentence in the article says “in Theory………”