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

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.

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

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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5 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. Planting a single seed of rice might yield 50.

    We don’t know the colossal magnitude of energy and time put into the smart design and creation of Life, which also enables a newly born calf finding and managing its first-ever food intake from its mother only minutes after birth.

    Let Technology try and achieve that with robotics and you’ll need a sea and mountains of fossil fuels to burn constructing a piece of metals, electronics, petrochemicals, communications systems – which involve huge concrete structures, thousand of miles of road networks, massive mining machinery, trains, trucks and an army of people – in building that robot which would not even replicate itself.

    No human-run processes can achieve greater overall energy efficiency of better than <=2% of incredibly-compact and refined plants photosynthesis.

    It is the hypnotic, incredibly energy-dense fossil fuels helping Adam Smith's "Invisible Hand" of Economics and Huxley's "Over Organisation" in the hand of his "Social Engineer" – what has confused humans to think they can build energy-producing devices much bigger and powerful than their body scale and muscle power – to produce any excess energy.

    Building any energy producing-device of useful work will always produce less sum useful energy than the total energy put into constructing the device, before wear and tear internal to matter forces it to degrade and cease (The Fifth Law).

    Energy always and only comes flowing from the past into the future.

    That means to construct a waterwheel, you wait for a forest to grow, cut and burn woods, forge an axe, wait for more woods to grow and cut them with the axe to construct and activate the wheel.

    The wheel will never have the material integrity to endure and produce sum useful energy exceeding all the solar energy the woods were exposed to. Not to mention all the foods, shelter and others that sustained the people involved in that decades and centuries-long process.

    This is a universal across all energy-producing devices: a waterwheel, the sun, fusion, nuclear, hydro, solar, wind, SpaceX, IoT, AI, 3D printing, 5G, 4IR, Startrek Enterprise spaceship – and you name it.

    Classic EROEI studies are flawed. There never was an EROEI of 1+:1, but always <1:1 – by physics – all along!

    Dr. Joseph Tainter is hopefully extending its Collapse thesis to add Entropy before Complexity;

    The clip below explains how complex systems crumble quickly no matter how we well design, construct them and exercise their energy-intensive repairs.

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gDuKZpZ6_ig

    The clip below demonstrates that rarely a car makes it into a next decade, not because we don't service our cars, but due to The Fifth Law and wear and tear eating the alive. What is happening to cars must be happening to all the world's industrial base, too!

    That explains why humans have depleted millions of years-worth of fossil fuels in a mere 300 years not even managing stopping war, disease or crypto slavery.

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UMVnQHCtQTE

    CSP is the way of the future when solar energy it captures put straight into Life – the best of what we have of smart design and machinery. This invites scholars rethink the thesis of Overpopulation, from the ground up.

    Thanks Alice – amazing collection of works, indeed.

    • Joe Clarkson says:

      Amazing to think that all those people that built sailboats could have been better off just carrying the cargo on their backs by land rather than wasting all that energy building the boat. And how stupid of people to build a wooden water wheel for grinding grain, when they would have been so much better off just grinding the grain by hand rather than wasting all that energy building the mill. The ultimate stupidity was wasting so much energy building a wood stove with which to heat a home, when it would have been so much more efficient to spend the energy doing jumping jacks to warm the place up. The guy that discovered the Fifth Law was a real genius!

      • By the time the steam engine became mainstream in 1800’s Britain, the country was almost entirely deforested.

        The steam engine wasn’t possible to operate without palm oil supplies made coming into Britain from slavery-ruled sunny Nigeria and elsewhere.

        Nature can not put up solar Energy fast enough in forests, wind and flowing rivers to keep the invisible hand of our style of communism-inside-capitalism Economics happy – making money, dominating Earth and feeling-good*.

        Living plants don’t exceed the <=2% in their photosynthesis machinery capturing solar energy (no matter how many say Earth is thermodynamically an open system and solar Energy falling everyday is enough to empower us for a year).

        Burning finite and once-only fossil fuels reserves that have taken millions of years in the making, doesn't change that physics – they are only energy store, left for humans to consume in-no-time, priced cheaper than bottled water by the engine of Economics, or thinking of reserving them for the future.

        Humans can not manufacture Energy. Energy always and only comes flowing from the past into the future – the solar activated forests, animals and humans in Britain and then fossil fuels reserves worldwide.

        You are not alone thinking – once a sailboat is built, it must be generating sum useful energy exceeding all the solar energy put into constructing its woods, nails and all what sustained humans building it.

        Don't blame yourself – this is another simple demonstration how humans are still primitive at large, no matter how they think they are not.

        The trees cut in the clip below is likely heading for a biomass-burning power plant;

        The fossil fuels put into manufacturing the heavy machinery employed in the logging process and the industrial base that manufactured the machinery, including all energy-intensive maintenance and repairs across mining machinery, furnaces, fabrication, communication, transportation, petrochemicals, urban infrastructure, knowledge management, added to the energy sustaining all the people involved – is several orders of magnitude greater than the sum useful energy ever captured from burning the cut woods.

        Economics doesn't object this fossil fuels sacrifice and systemic massacre, but calls the exercise – green, renewable energy, as long as it keeps the-show going, and people happy thinking sailboats actually produce greater useful energy than all the solar energy that made the sailboats and empowered the people involved!

        When a boat of yours that was returning home, after invading another country for resources, maybe, the profit made was going to Economics, never to the people who cut the woods, or restoring the environment that is left in tatters due to deforestation.

        Otherwise, sailboats were have to be so readily available, America was discovered and heavily colonised at the time of Sumerians (see documentaries on today’s ship scrapyards in India, Pakistan, Turkey and others).

        It is no longer up to the commons, like you and me, to think what is energy-sensible or not (your comment above is a demonstration of that) – or humans have not burned all fossil fuels irrationally to depletion since James Watt, if they were not made confused about real physics of Energy and made totally-decoupled from their natural instinct of scarcity by the agency of the Industrial Revolution – the instinct crucial to humans survival as fear and feeling pain and hunger – but up to the invisible hand of Economics!

        You comment is another live voice confirming the essence of the The Tragedy of the Commons, indeed. Well done.

        https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=D-8YDq85m98

        * “Time taken to stock energy required to construct an energy-producing device added to the time constructing it, will always be longer than the entire useful lifetime of the device” (The Fifth Law).

  3. 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………”

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