Whorled View

November 14, 2007

Solar Thermal Energy: the claims just keep getting better

According to this CNN article released today Concentrated Solar Power (CSP) that harnesses the heat of the sun (not the brightness of the sun, which is what Solar PV does) just keeps looking better. Among the claims:

1) Electricity produced by CSP can be as cheap as 8 cents per kWh. That’s about 20% cheaper than most people are paying in the united states right now for electricity. That’s1/4 the cost of electricity produced by the ever so much more popular Solar PV panels.

2) A 92 x 92 square mile CSP farm placed in the empty barren desert in the SW United States could produce all the energy needed by the whole United States.

3) It could easily solve the desalinated water shortage crisis – which for many countries is a much bigger problem than any kind of oil shortage crisis.

4) Only 0.3% of the Sahara desert is needed to power most of Europe and upper Africa, resulting in a 70% carbon reduction for the region. It will save astonishing amounts of money too as cities must otherwise relocate costing of 100’s billions of dollars, whereas it could all be averted with a CSP plant in the $10 billions of dollar range.

5) Since 90% of the world lives relatively close to desert or to substantial power grids connected to such areas then 90% of the world’s population can be served by this breathtakingly economical and clear resource.

Strangely enough some of the biggest opponents to CSP appear to be a group of environmentalists and key Democrat politicians who seem to be letting expected tax incentives lapse. Based on my last post, you’ll see that this comes as no surprise to me. For 30 years they’ve been trying to keep CSP in the background so industry experts could make money off new alternative energy startups that will never compare with respect to efficiency, cost, and time to market.

These tax incentives for the power companies are vital. Even though CSP may be cheaper than filthy fossil fuels, power companies are making tons of money on fossil fuels. They have the right to jack the prices as high as they need, and at times like now when there is no shortage, but the cost is high due to political concerns, they make all the money. Why? Because they already own such a huge interest in the reserves. The only way to get power companies to build CSP farms is to financially encourage them – and that isn’t happening.



  1. I’d be interested to know where you get your data from.

    Comment by Eric Mair — November 20, 2007 @ 7:18 am

  2. I will also say this: The author apparently knows nothing about Solar PV, based on this statement “PV relies on mirrors to directly translate the sun’s rays into energy”.

    I read the other day that Ausra thinks they could possibly eventually get Solar Thermal electricity as cheap as $0.05/kWh. Can’t remember now though where I saw that. Anyway, that depends on some new designs working that have not yet been put into practice, and depends on super huge scale operations.

    Comment by davea0511 — November 20, 2007 @ 1:53 pm

  3. I would, in turn, say this: The author who says this: “The author apparently knows nothing about Solar PV, based on this statement “PV relies on mirrors to directly translate the sun’s rays into energy”.” not only has terrible reading comprehension, but has horrible grammar. If we take that statement in context, we see that he means that the PV relies on mirrors in order that the PV cells might do their job, namely translate the sun’s rays into electricity, as opposed to the thermal plants relying on mirrors in order that the heat may be translated by steam and turbines into electricity. I admit that the sentence is not as clear as it could be, but it does not at all reflect misunderstanding of the subject of Solar PV. The sentence
    “But where PV relies on mirrors to directly translate the sun’s rays into energy, CSP uses the sun to heat water…” might have been more clear were it phrased like this:
    “But where PV takes advantage of mirrors to do its task of turning light into electricity more efficiently, CSP takes advantage of mirrors to do a different task of heating…”

    Comment by Wm. H — December 2, 2007 @ 2:14 am

  4. But the statement is entirely incorrect. It says “PV relies on mirrors …”, which is just plain false. Photovoltaics has nothing to do with mirrors. CPV (concentrated photovoltaics, a rare form of PV) do rely on either mirrors or optics, but PV alone has nothing to do with mirrors.

    For those who don’t know how PV cells works, all you need is a P-type substrate (usually silicon doped with Boron to make it slightly P-type – this means it has extra holes in the atomic lattice structure), and then an n-type material on the top (usually silicon doped with Phosphorus to make N-type – meaning it has extra electrons in the atomic Lattice structure). Throw the thing out in the sun with the n-type facing up and it generates electricity (current will flow from the back to the front. More info here: http://advancedsolargy.com/BasicSolarScience.aspx

    As you can see no mirrors required. Thus the statement “PV relies on mirrors” is completely false, and for someone who knows nothing about PV cells reading that article (which doesn’t discuss the workings of the PV cell) would be completely misled on the matter. Frankly I don’t know how anyone could have authored the original statement intentionally unless they were functioning more as a reporter than an expert. There’s nothing wrong with that, but the reader should be aware of it.

    Comment by davea0511 — December 4, 2007 @ 6:13 pm

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