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5 Reasons Why Solar Thermal is becoming Favored Choice for Hybrid Clean Fossil Fuel Power Plants

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Solar Thermal Technology is facing an existential threat as plunging solar panel prices have made other solar technologies fight for their future. Many Solar Thermal Companies have closed down in 2011 and many of the CSP Power Plants have now been converted in to PV panel projects. This is because the costs of building a solar panel power plant is less than half that of a solar thermal plant. You can read the advantages and disadvantages of solar thermal technology below.

However Solar Thermal Technology is finding a niche in Hybrid Fossil Fuel Power Plants . The reason that Solar Thermal is gaining traction in Solar Hybrid Plants is

1) They can use the existing Electricity and Transmission Infrastructure of the new Fossil Fuel Plant or the Existing One

2) Solar Thermal Technology in most cases generate Steam which can be used by the Turbines of the Fossil Fuel Plant saving additional costs

3) They help in Utilties meet the RPS standard or generate Green Certificates which generates additional money

4) Helps in Backing the Green Credentials of the Owner

5) Hybrid Plants also don’t have to face the problems of Intermittency as the Gas or Coal Plant can generate Electricity at any Time.

Advantages of Solar Thermal Energy

  • No Fuel Cost – Solar Thermal Energy does not require any fuel like most other sources of renewable energy.This is a huge advantage over other fossil fuels whose costs are increasing at a drastic  rate every year.Electricity prices are increasingly rapidly in most parts of  the world much faster than general inflation.Price shocks due to high fuel costs are a big risk with fossil fuel energy these days
  • Predictable,24/7 Power -Solar Thermal Energy can generate power 24 hours a day.This is made possible as solar thermal power plants store the energy in the form of molten salts etc.Other forms of Renewable Energy like Solar PV and Wind Energy are intermittent in nature.The electricity supply is much more uniform and reliable.
  •  No Pollution and Global Warming Effects – Solar Thermal Energy does not cause pollution which is one of the biggest advantages .Note there are costs associated with the equipment used to build and transport Solar Thermal Energy Equipment
  • Using Existing Industrial Base – Solar Thermal Energy uses equipment like solar thermal mirrors and turbines which is made in large scale at low cost by the existing Industrial Base and requires no major changes in equipment and materials unlike new technologies such as CIGs Panels.

Disadvantages of Solar Thermal Energy

1) High Costs – Solar Thermal Energy costs at least Euro 3.5/watt and has not declined too much in the last 3-4 years .However these costs are too high  as Solar PV already costs Euro 2.5/watt and even on a conservative basis will have its costs reduced by 5% in the next 10 years making it attain half the cost of Solar Thermal Technology by 2020

2) Future Technology has a high probability of making CSP Obsolete – Solar Energy has become a Hotbed of Innovation with daily news of some new breakthrough in materials and process in PV Technology.Oerlikon has come out with a radial new a-Si Technology while CIGs player are touting increased efficiencies.Chinese Solar Companies have captured large chunks of the Solar Market through low cost leadership while number of Global Heavyweights like Posco,Samsung,Hyundai,Sharp,GE,TSMC promise to further decrease these costs.

3) Water Issue – Solar Thermal Plants use lots of Water which is Major Problem in Desert Areas.Using non-water cooling raises the cost of CSP projects too much.While using SeaWater has been proposed it remains to be seen if it possible to implement this solution as this would imply building Plants very near the Coastline

4) Ecological and Cultural Issues – The Usage of Massive Arrays of Mirrors is noted to heavily impact the Desert  Wildlife endangering the endangered species.California has already seen a massive fight on this issue with Project Developers curtailing the size of their Plants and spending money to move the wildlife

5) Limited Locations and Size Limitations – Solar Thermal  Energy can only be built in places which have the high amount of solar radiation.They can be built in deserts mostly and require a large land area.This means its not possible to build them in populated areas.Solar Thermal Energy also can only be built in large sizes which are at least 50 MW in size to be economical.This contrasts to Solar PV which is sold in sizes as low as 5 Watts

6) Long Gestation Time Leading to Cost Overruns – The Gestation Time for permitting,financing,drilling etc. can easily take 5-7 years to develop a concentrated solar thermal power plant.Compare this to 6 months for a small wind farm or 3 months for a Solar PV plant

7)  Financing is the biggest problem in developing projects particularly for small solar thermal developers in this industry.


Abhishek Shah

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