Solar Thermal Power Is Coming to a Boil


Photo: CRISTINA QUICLER/AFP/Getty Images

One of the exciting advances in renewable energy is solar thermal power. My colleague Jonathan G. Dorn writes in a recent Earth Policy Institute release, "Solar Thermal Power Coming to a Boil" that 100 megawatts of new capacity came online worldwide in 2007.

Escalating concerns about global climate change--and fresh economic incentives--are renewing interest in this technology.

Considering that the energy in sunlight reaching the earth in just 70 minutes is equivalent to annual global energy consumption, the potential for solar power is virtually unlimited. Jonathan notes, "With concentrating solar thermal power (CSP) capacity expected to double every 16 months over the next five years, worldwide installed CSP capacity will reach 6,400 megawatts in 2012--14 times the current capacity." (See additional data.)The electricity generated by CSP is clean and carbon-free and, since the sun is the energy source, there are no fuel costs. Another advantage Jonathan notes is that "energy storage in the form of heat is also significantly cheaper than battery storage of electricity, providing CSP with an economical means to overcome intermittency and deliver dispatchable power."

"The United States and Spain are leading the world in the development of solar thermal power, with a combined total of over 5,600 megawatts of new capacity expected to come online by 2012. Representing over 90 percent of the projected new capacity by 2012, the output from these plants would be enough to meet the electrical needs of more than 1.7 million homes."

The largest solar thermal power complex in operation today is the Solar Electricity Generating Station in the Mojave Desert in California. This 354-megawatt complex has been producing enough power for 100,000 homes for almost two decades. In June 2007, the 64-megawatt Nevada Solar One plant became the first multi-megawatt commercial CSP plant to come online in the United States in 16 years.

"Today, more than a dozen new CSP plants are being planned in the United States, with some 3,100 megawatts expected to come online by 2012," writes Jonathan. "Some impressive CSP projects in the planning stages include the 553-megawatt Mojave Solar Park in California, the 500-megawatt Solar One and 300-megawatt Solar Two projects in California, a 300-megawatt facility in Florida, and the 280-megawatt Solana plant in Arizona.

"In Spain, the first commercial-scale CSP plant to begin operation outside the United States since the mid-1980s came online in 2007: the 11-megawatt PS10 tower. The tower is part of the 300-megawatt Solúcar Platform, which, when completed in 2013, will contain ten CSP plants and produce enough electricity to supply 153,000 homes while preventing 185,000 tons of carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions annually. All told, more than 60 plants are in the pipeline in Spain, with 2,570 megawatts expected to come online by 2012."

To get the full story on this emerging technology, I recommend reading the full report by Jonathan Dorn.

Tags: Alternative Energy | Clean Energy | Lester Brown | Renewable Energy | Solar Energy | Solar Power

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