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Another $5 billion solar thermal pipedream in California which will not see the light of the day

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New $5B Solar Thermal plant in California

For many years, we at Greenworldinvestor have forecasted the demise of the solar thermal technology and sure enough all the major startups in the solar thermal energy got bankrupt one by one. With the technology getting slaughtered by the rapid development of the solar PV technology whose costs declined dramatically. Solar thermal plants which can only be built on a large scale, require large amounts of capital and scarce resources like water. Now there is hardly any new large solar thermal plant getting built in the world, as the technology has become obsolete much like the Betamax technology in videos which got obsolete by VHS.

The cost decline of solar PV has become so dramatic that solar PV plus energy storage is now cheaper than solar Solar thermal plantthermal technology. However, this has not stopped a solar thermal company called Solar Reserve to dream about a $5 billion solar thermal project in California. The company which uses a power tower technology like Brightsource Energy wants to build a 2 GW project over 16000 acres of land. What I am surprised is the low cost that the company mentions $2.5 /watt, since its existing plant of 110 MW was built at nearly $10/watt. I do not think solar thermal technology has advanced so far to reduce costs to $2.5/watt.

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

Even at $2.5/watt the costs are probably too high since solar PV plants can be built at $1/watt in large utility scale sizes now. These costs will further go down to around 80 cents/watt or low, when this plant gets built (if it does). I think this solar thermal plant is a white elephant project that is most probably being thought to extract Federal subsidy dollars. The 110 MW plant that Solar Reserve built got a huge $737 million in subsidy dollars which is a massive waste of money in my view. Though that earlier plant got built in an era when solar PV technology was not that good, it might not have been a criminal expenditure. But now given that solar PV costs are so low and the energy storage is also going down in costs rapidly, this project does not make any sense at all.

A California-based energy company announced plans Tuesday to build the world’s largest solar project in Nevada, a $5 billion endeavor involving at least 100,000 mirrors and 10 towers as tall as any building in the state.

SolarReserve’s Sandstone project would include up to 10 concentrated solar arrays, each equipped with a molten salt system capable of storing the sun’s energy to generate power after dark, CEO Kevin Smith said.

The company already has built one such array, the 110-megawatt Crescent Dunes Solar Energy Plant, on 1,600 acres of federal land outside of Tonopah, 225 miles northwest of Las Vegas. The $1 billion array began delivering power to NV Energy late last year.



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

7 Responses so far | Have Your Say!

  1. Ravi Kapoor

    there is an incorrect information in the article ,
    there are four 600Mw worth of Csp plants at commissioning stage or under completion in Morocco & about 200 MW in Algeria ,
    also China has announced & started working on 10 GW Pilot projects in CSP , they have also announced FIT for the same …..

  2. Sneha Shah

    Dear Mr. Kapoor,

    Thank you for reading my article and your comment. It is true that things are happening, however what I wanted to stress is the CSP technology has not become successful as mainstream. Look how India started with both solar PV and CSP as 50-50, but how solar PV technology took off, while CSP took the back seat.

  3. Ravi Kapoor

    Dear Sneha ,
    All countries that have been attracted toward PV tech , have now started releasing that they wound need to maintain the ratio for of PV to CSP to maintain Grid stability …
    take the example of China , they have more than 4 times the installation of PV power plants as compared to India , and yet they face announced a 10 GW Pilot Csp Plants ,
    that itself speaks volume for the CSP industry ,

    If you run thru the Plants Planned Thru the MENA region , u may be able to thru more light to the CSP tech as majority of power Plants planned are on CSP + Storage

    with regards to india , yes we do agree that we started PV & CSP on equal footing , however pv has taken off & its high time we realize where we are heading towards …
    a mix of CSp & PV is necessary for Grid stability ,

    to add another point , have read a lot of your articles & haven’t ever read a positive report about CSP inspite of the World opinion changing , be it China , South Africa , Middle east , Northern Africa ,
    looking forward to some thing positive about CSp

    keep up the Good Work !!!!!
    looking forward to more informative articles

  4. jake

    Comparing solar thermal with STORAGE costs to PV costs without STORAGE is apples and oranges.

    Add in the equivalent cost of storage with batteries to the solar PV costs when you compare the two and you will see this plant isn’t so expensive after all.

  5. Sneha Shah

    Surely Ravi, I am definitely not against CSP. Its just that solar PV technology has become immensely popular. Thank you for throwing light on the situation. Will look forward to more such discussions :)

  6. Ravi Kapoor

    Dear Sneha ,

    i never meant that you were against CSP , Just that on yr platform the information on on CSP was underplayed With not much of relevance , whereas if we take Process heat its an huge industry by itself & with no Competition from PV on this front ,

    looking forward to more news & info On the Solar Thermal Industry

  7. juha

    You are comparing apples and pears. Solar PV got inexpensive because its produced in a massive scale in China. Prices in China for CSP are 4 x less then what Abengoa offered 5 years ago for the same site. Problem has been that all CSP has been build by a few large Spanish EPC contractors. Now the Chinese companies have started the exact same will happen as in PV. Prices will go down to a few cents per kWh. Although China has extremely cheap PV, like 0.3 USD/W still they need CSP to stabilize the network. Now what is going to happen if batteries become inexpensive. Well we will only see windmills then because they are much cheaper then any PV. A stable network requires different types of power generators, not just PV or wind or CSP. We have to start understanding that these sources do not compete but are complimentary. Still, after Mr. Trump won the elections, I doubt if the US is going to be a market for the next 8 years. I think he is going to prioritize use of coal and oil. Happy landing !!!