China To Dominate Concentrated Solar Power Renaissance

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By Haley Zaremba

“Concentrating solar power (CSP) plants,” explains the Solar Energy Industries Association, “use mirrors to concentrate the sun’s energy to drive traditional steam turbines or engines that create electricity. The thermal energy concentrated in a CSP plant can be stored and used to produce electricity when it is needed, day or night.” Despite all the promise of the technology touted by SEIA, however, CSP plants have all but faded from existence in the United States.

The SEIA goes on to say that, “Today, roughly 1,815 megawatts (MWac) of CSP plants are in operation in the United States.” This number pales in comparison, however, to what is happening with concentrated solar power around the world. Although CSP has relatively stagnant in the United States, it is set to make a comeback and is already rebounding globally. Global CSP capacity around the world rose by a considerable 11 percent last year, led primarily by Spain and Morocco. CSP is about to put itself back on the worldwide energy map in a big way–and for a very good reason.

“A recent analysis of power generation costs from the International Renewable Energy Agency (IRENA),”  reports Greentech Media, “revealed that CSP fell more steeply in cost last year than any other renewable technology. It declined 26 percent year on year, double the rate seen in onshore wind and PV, and has dropped 46 percent since 2010.”

The sudden and extreme drop in cost of CSP has led to a veritable renaissance for the previously obscure technology, allowing it to become competitive with more traditional photovoltaic solar technologies. While IRENA has hedged its bets on the drop in CSP prices, pointing out that the current low rates may be unsustainable as there are not a huge number of CSP projects underway in the immediate future, there is hope that the technology will be more widely adopted in a hurry. In fact, Greentech goes on to say that “CSP deployment is set to rise in China this year, making a rebound in average global costs unlikely. Instead, IRENA predicts average CSP costs will continue to descend through to 2020, hitting between $60 and $100 per megawatt-hour, or roughly the same level as offshore wind.” IRENA and Greentech are not the only organizations predicting a big year and a big comeback for concentrated solar power around the world. Market intelligence firm Visiongain recently released a massive 155-page report on the matter, called Concentrated Solar Power (CSP) Market Report 2019-2029, which found that the global CSP market will reach $37.3 this year. The report details, “The demand for CSP is expected to increase in the coming years owing to supportive government regulations on renewable energy and growing electricity consumption. Spain, the USA, South Africa, and India are the major countries for the CSP demand.”

Leading the charge, there is already a major Spanish-led CSP project underway in Dubai. Fittingly for a city full of the world’s tallest and largest wonders, Spanish company Refractaris is involved in building the tallest solar tower in the world. “With a height of 260 meters and capable of generating 100 megawatts, reports Spanish renewable-energy news source Reve, “the solar thermal project is expected to be fully operational by the end of 2020.”

While Spain and the U.S. remain at the top of the CSP capacity charts, this ranking may be short-lived. A large part of the reason that CSP has become so affordable is China’s sudden involvement at various levels of the CSP supply chain, both independently and in partnership with various Middle Eastern projects. China’s CSP market is expanding at a serious clip, and with their apparent interest to be involved at all levels, we can more-than-likely expect China to dominate the CSP markets in the very near future.

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