Bookmark and Share

Are the Subsidized Huge Solar Thermal Plants in California a Massive Waste of Public Money

5 Comment

California and the Federal Government have recently approved a number of big Solar Thermal Plants totaling around 2800 MW.These plants utilize Concentrated Solar Thermal (CSP) Technology and uses mirrors and towers instead of normal PV panels.The haste with which these plants are being permitted and approved is mainly due to the expiry of the Treasury Grant Scheme by end of 2010.According the the American Stimulus rules,only Green Projects which have broken ground or spent 5% of their costs would be eligible for the 30% Cash Subsidy.6 Huge Solar Thermal Plants have been approved with the biggest Blythe plant being the most recent.The capital costs for these plants are extremely high at around $5.5-6/watt which makes me question their economics.PV panels can be installed at around $3-3.5 /watt which is around 40-50% lower.Despite the higher capacity factors for Solar Thermal Plants and their ability to store energy for a short period,the cost difference is too large.

CSP Technology is fast losing ground to Solar PV technology with rapid advancements being made both by Thin Fim Technologies and rapid improvements in Crystalline Silicon Technology.By the time these plants are built in 3-4 years,expect the Solar PV costs to decline by another 30-40% making the CSP plants a total waste of public money.The rapidly falling costs of PV Technology also makes the ambitious European Destertec Plan a White Elephant which is Doomed to Fail.The Obama Administration has given billions of dollars in loans and grants to Green Companies without looking into the economics.Giving loans grants to startups like Solyndra and Abound Solar does not make much sense when established solar companies like Evergreen Solar,Energy Conversion Devices are outsourcing  green jobs to Mexico and China for lack of support.The $3 billion Blythe Plant will ge t$900 mm in government subsidies for 500 MW of capacity .300 permanent jobs would be created at a price of $3 million/job which also seems too high.Here is some more color on the economics of Solar Thermal Technogy vs Solar PV Technology

Big solar: U.S. Department of Interior approves largest CSP project to be built on public lands – PV-Tech

The U.S. Department of the Interior has approved what will be the largest solar energy project ever to be built on U.S. public lands. The Blythe Solar Power Project, which will use parabolic trough-based concentrated solar thermal technology, will produce up to 1GW of solar power once completed.The Blythe project, which is eligible to receive $1.9 billion in Department of Energy conditional loan guarantees, will be built in four 250MW sections. It is expected to create 1,066 jobs at the peak of construction and 295 permanent jobs.


Sneha Shah

I am Sneha, the Editor-in-chief for the Blog. We would be glad to receive suggestions, inputs & comments on GWI from you guys to keep it going! You can contact me for consultancy/trade inquires by writing an email to

5 Responses so far | Have Your Say!

  1. Glenn2ns

    Being a proponent of CPV (concentrated photovoltaic) which purports to have much less LCOE (levelized cost of energy) in areas of DNI (direct normal insolation) more than 6, I am curious if the cost you’ve stated of $3-3.5/kWh is CPV. Crystalized-silicone, poly-silicone and amorphous-silicone technologies, all drop in efficiency in areas of high DNI which in turn causes costs to escalate. The deserts in southern California have a DNI of 7.5 according to reports I have seen. In my estimation a major impediment to the successful implimentation of CSP (concentrated solar power) is the extremely high water footprint. In Southern California this is paramount. Water wars from the California aquaduct have been mounting for years. I5 has many a fruit bering tree cut down by virtue of the fact that water has been reallocated. Energy is important, but water is a crucial metric. CPV needs almost no water, CSP need huge water requirements in general terms although some closed cycle technologies have been designed. My understanding is that CSP is designed into a project and then converted to PV (CPV).

  2. Abhishek Shah

    Thanks for your feedback.I meant $3-3.5/Kw of installed cost for cystalline silicon/First Solar system which is the current rate for large scale utility plants.I was not trying to be too technical with the post,just trying to give rough figures and trends.For an exact comparison LCOE would be a better metric but using LCOE would be difficult exercise in absence of a lot of information.I agree with you that CPV is a good technology to improve on the current mainstream PV technologies,but it needs to prove itself in the field with some large projects which currently seems to be happening.In case of CSP,not only is the water requirement a problem,there is also the problem of gestation times and scale.Just like large nuclear plants,these CSP plants have large projects risks associate with permitting,siting,interconnection etc. leading to potential cost and time overruns.