Bookmark and Share

Is the failure of the Ivanpah the final death knell of the Solar Thermal technology?

1 Comment

We at Greenworldinvestor had sounded the end of the solar thermal technology almost 3 years ago, when we had said the technology was no longer competitive with silicon solar PV technology. CSP technology which is based on solar thermal effect had many technology providers four to five years ago. At that time, the cost of solar PV was almost at par with solar thermal technology and both technologies were being used to build solar power plants. However as costs of silicon solar panel falls drastically each year, solar thermal technology started to look like an expensive hobby. Despite this, many countries such as USA and India continued to push solar thermal power plants through subsidies. But even as solar PV has become a mainstream energy source, solar thermal technology is still trying to find its feet.

While many solar thermal projects have been abandoned, some like Brightsouce Energy’s Ivanpah plant built at a cost of more than $2 billion got developed. However, many others were replaced with solar PV technology, as most solar thermal companies realized the massive cost advantages of solar PV compared to solar thermal. They were anyway fighting a losing battle.

Now the Ivanpah plant built by Brightsouce is running into trouble, as the power towers are failing to generate the required power as per the contract with Californian utilities. Brightsource plant may be shut down, if it fails to ramp up the power generation. Note power towers are niche technology and still in the conceptual stage. This is the first large plant built by Brightsouce and its failure would not be a totally unexpected outcome as a new technology takes time to stabilize. However, if Ivanpah fails, then it will be a major blow to solar thermal technology and it may not recover. Solar PV costs continue to decline making solar thermal look worse and even after 5 years, solar thermal technology is not expected to come close to solar PV costs.

With lithium battery costs expected to fall by 50% over the next 5-6 years, the only substantial advantage of solar thermal over solar PV will also evaporate. Currently solar thermal is able to store power through molten salts and oil, and supply power even at night which solar PV can’t do. But ubiquitous and cheap lithium batteries will make this advantage disappear.


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

One Response so far | Have Your Say!

  1. Sunil Kakade

    Sneha I like the stuff you write on. Good and informative. I am an Architect with a very eco-friendly inclination and feel that Solar PV will see a lot of popular movement in near future. Solar thermal is nascent and will find its foot hold in time to come in niche areas of power generation.