Video: Concentrating Solar Power is Here to Stay

Twenty five years ago, the first Concentrating Solar Power (CSP) boom began in California’s Mojave Desert. But shortly after the 354 MW of parabolic troughs were installed, the market ground to a halt when the technology couldn’t keep pace with plummeting oil and natural gas prices.

For years, CSP was confined mostly to smaller water- and space-heating projects. Even though the utility-scale Mojave Desert projects had been very successful, no financiers or utilities would touch the technology.

Then in 2007, with climbing fossil energy prices and renewed interest in solar, the market looked ready to pick back up. Acciona completed its 64-MW Nevada Solar One project — the first CSP project in 15 years.

Around the same time, Europe’s first commercial-scale CSP project, PS10, also came online. Utilities took notice and started signing power purchase agreements with a variety of players looking to develop parabolic troughs, power towers and linear fresnel systems. By the end of 2008, there were more than 7,000 MW of projects in the global CSP development pipeline.

Then came the financial crisis and the global recession, which suppressed the price of fossil energies and investor appetite for CSP projects. Again the industry slowed, but this time not nearly as much as it had in the past.

Due to favorable policies in countries like Spain and the U.S., as well as the need for utilities to protect themselves from the fluctuating price of natural gas, companies pushed ahead with plans to build power plants. Many projects have been set back because of difficulties in the financial markets, but few have been cancelled. Over the last year, another 20-MW project from Abengoa Solar came online in Spain and a 5-MW project from eSolar was completed in California. There are now around 9,000 MW of CSP projects under contract around the world.

“It’s a deep market, and I don’t think we’re going to lose the momentum,” says Arnold Leitner, President and CEO of SkyFuel. “I think it’s here to stay. In ten years from now, you will see definitely 250-MW power plants built with 6 to 8 hours of storage built on a regular basis.”

So how are leading players like SkyFuel, eSolar and Abengoa fairing in this favorable-yet-still-challenging environment? Check out the video below for a roundtable discussion with industry executives from these companies to get a sense for what’s happening in CSP.

We’ll speak with Arnold Leitner of SkyFuel; Fred Morse, Senior Advisor to U.S. Operations for Abengoa Solar; and Rob Rogan, Vice President of the Americas for eSolar about technological progress, the health of the financial markets and the reasons that utilities are embracing CSP.

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I am a reporter with ClimateProgress.org, a blog published by the Center for American Progress. I am former editor and producer for RenewableEnergyWorld.com, where I contributed stories and hosted the Inside Renewable Energy Podcast. Keep in touch through twitter! My profile name is: Stphn_Lacey

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