As the curtain goes up on the 2012 Solar Power International (SPI) Conference in Orlando, Florida this week, the solar industry faces critical strategic questions: what are the biggest challenges to greater inclusion in the global energy market, how do we approach them and how will the markets react? We must answer these questions in order to meet growing global demand for clean, affordable energy.
The solar energy industry has already shown acumen for tackling tough challenges through innovation. Power purchase agreements now let customers defray the costs of an initial upfront investment and online estimate options have made the process of going solar easier in the residential market. Component manufacturer partnerships are streamlining solar integration. And, concentrating solar power (CSP) technology providers are teaming their innovations with the strong balance sheets of major industrial players.
At AREVA Solar, we are tackling this challenge by focusing on CSP augmentation to traditional power generation facilities. Analysts expect a twenty-fold increase in CSP generation over the next decade, and the ability to pair CSP with fossil fuels will be key to this growth. Adding a booster to an existing facility is a cost-effective way to improve a plant’s performance and avoid or lower its emissions. There is a sizable market of coal-fired power plants globally that could be good candidates for solar augmentation. For instance, it’s estimated that in coal-reliant Australia, there is a potential booster market of at least 800 megawatts (MW) in the next decade.
CSP is also a good fit for India because of the region’s high level of solar irradiation coupled with a growing demand for energy, especially in light of August’s blackout. Fossil-CSP hybrids can also help address India’s current energy challenges, principally a lack of available coal and high natural gas prices, which are necessitating new, lower-cost solutions to increase output.
And in the United States, solar power augmentation provides important dispatchability and environmental benefits for utilities, such as Tucson Electric Power in Arizona where they are adding CSP to one of its fossil-fired power plants.
How solar augmentation works and its benefits to power producers
Solar power augmentation is the result of integrating CSP solar-generated steam into the steam cycle of existing fossil fuel, geothermal and biomass-powered plants. It’s a good option for customers that need to either cleanly boost power plant output to meet increased demand without added emissions or to offset fossil fuel consumption and reduce multiple pollutants.
For customers that need new capacity, a solar hybrid plant can be built with both a solar thermal boiler and a natural gas combined-cycle back-up boiler that are built side-by-side and integrated for optimal performance.
In a number of international energy markets, booster plants offer the opportunity to help meet sustainability goals, address the growing worldwide demand for energy and, as mentioned above, help contend with electricity shortages. CSP boosters and hybrids allow power generators to quickly bridge the carbon gap and bring their facilities in line with environmental regulations and sustainability goals.
Because the high-pressure superheated steam of many CSP solutions readily and quickly integrates into the steam cycle of existing plants, most boosters can be built in nine months or less. And by leveraging existing power infrastructure, booster deployment can result in a levelized cost of electricity that is significantly lower than similar sized photovoltaic (PV) plants.
Another advantage over PV and other renewable resources is that CSP steam generators for augmentation have enough solar thermal inertia to continue generating power during periods of intermittent cloud coverage, which provides adequate time for plant operators to ramp up fossil-fired generation to provide baseload power.
Booster projects, as well as standalone CSP plants, can also drive local economic growth. From 60% to 95% of the content used for CSP plants – mainly steel,
concrete and glass – can be locally sourced.
A gateway to standalone CSP adoption
Making a sizeable investment in CSP, at a time of limited capital resources, can seem risky for some utilities. A successful hybrid or booster project effectively demonstrates the reliability of a CSP company’s technology and its ability to deliver its project, with a smaller investment. This proof point reduces the risk utility customers perceive in choosing standalone CSP plants.
For example, AREVA Solar is currently constructing a 250 MW standalone CSP project in India for Reliance Power using our Compact Linear Fresnel Reflector (CLFR) technology. When construction finishes, the plant will be the largest CSP installation in Asia and will help advance India’s goal of adding 20,000 MW of solar energy by 2022. The project will result in the avoidance of approximately 557,000 metric tons of CO2 emissions per year compared to a similar sized coal-fired power plant.
South Africa, for example is home to the Khi Solar One, KaXu Solar and Bokpoort standalone CSP projects that are currently under development by major CSP consortiums. The three plants combined will generate 200 MW of electricity when completed. In the United Arab Emirates, Masdar’s Shams 1 trough plant is currently under construction and, upon completion later this year, it will have a capacity of 100 MW and will displace approximately 175,000 metric tons of CO2 per year.
Additionally, CSP providers have developed molten salt storage systems to meet the needs of utilities that require energy storage as part of CSP plants. These systems are being proven in various parts of the world, including Spain and the United States, to help limit intermittency and improve grid stability while further reducing the levelized cost of energy – even after the sun goes down. And these systems complement dispatchable, cost-effective solar/natural gas hybrid plants and solar augmentation of existing fossil-fueled plants. This is why AREVA Solar, which specializes in CSP augmentation to fossil-fueled plants, will be offering storage solutions as early as 2013; more on that later this week.
In short, growth in the global market for booster projects as well as the general wider adoption of CSP technology will help bridge the carbon gap, be a source of local jobs and economic growth and meet energy demand in regions around the world.
We hope to continue this conversation at SPI, introducing new questions and our thoughts about the future of the global solar industry. We think that as more boosters and standalone plants are constructed and begin operation over the coming year, they will become a greater force in the world energy market. We welcome attendees to stop by AREVA Solar’s booth (#1220) to let us know what they think and discuss it further.