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American CSP industry receives huge boost from DoE

2011 will go down in the concentrated solar power (CSP) industry’s history books as an excellent year. Following announcements for two loan guarantees in late 2010 to construct Ivanpah (a tower plant by BrightSource Energy) and Solana (a parabolic trough plant with seven hours storage by Abengoa), 2011 has seen unprecedented levels of support by the DoE for the CSP industry.
American CSP industry receives huge boost from DoE

One of the companies to have recently secured US Department of Energy (DoE) backing with a loan guarantee, Solar Trust of America, celebrated the ground-breaking ceremony of its Blythe plant last week. With over $2.1 billion in funding, the plant will be the largest in the world at 1 GW once it is complete.

The announcement coincides with the run-up to the biggest annual concentration of CSP professionals in Las Vegas (CSP Today USA 2011, 29-30 June). Belén Gallego, Founder and Director of CSP Today, reports that over 600 professionals will come together to discuss the future of the industry and the opportunities for progress. “It has taken a lot of time to build momentum in the US CSP industry, so it’s crucial that we capitalise on it”. Gallego adds that “dramatically reducing costs and becoming competitive are number one priority”.

As part of the conference proceedings, active developers will be updating their colleagues on the latest developments with projects worldwide, and more specifically in the US.

Rapid progress after a 20-year gap

Following a 20-year hiatus, the first US CSP plant was constructed in Las Vegas in 2006 by Acciona Solar (Now Acciona Energy). The plant was named Nevada Solar I and it is a parabolic trough technology plant with an output of 64 MW. Only one project in Florida came to fruition in the years after that, until 2010 when the Martin Next Generation Solar Energy Plant was developed by NextEra in Florida.

However, in the last quarter of 2010 two plants of never-seen-before dimensions obtained conditional loan guarantees and are now under construction: The Ivanpah and Solana projects.

The novelty of these plants is the size and innovation incorporated in their designs, with a 7 hours of molten salt storage for Solana (A 280-MW parabolic trough plant); and the tower design for Ivanpah (three towers totalling up to 392 MW). Both were the largest announced in the world at the time. Ivanpah also constituted a leapfrog advance in tower technology scaling up 6.5 times the size per tower that had been achieved previously by PS20, a 20-MW tower plant in Sevilla (Spain).

Over $3 billion in support

2011 has so far followed a positively similar trend, with $3.35 billion having been announced by the DoE in loan guarantees for four different projects: Blythe (Solar Trust of America, 2 x 240 MW part of 1-GW plant), Crescent Dunes (SolarReserve, 110-MW tower project, The Mojave Solar Project (Abengoa, 280 MW) and Genesis Solar Project (NextEra, 250-MW trough project). The industry is waiting with baited breath to see whether 2011 will be the turning point in the US industry on its journey to market dominance.

It hasn’t been an easy ride so far - “With 479MW of CSP connected to the grid, the early leadership of the USA in installed MW capacity was surpassed last year by Spain with over 1GW currently connected to the grid,” continues Gallego.

However, with 1,796MW now in construction with the support of the loan guarantees and more than 10 GW in the pipeline, the industry is gaining real momentum in the US. Reducing costs, securing transmission, environmental permits and financing are still enormous roadblocks for full development of the industry in the US. But there has never been a better time to prove the viability, the potential for the creation of green jobs and energy independence that CSP brings to the table.

CSP Markets report released

With more than 8,234MW of CSP capacity in the planning stage, there is plenty to read about in a new report released this month by CSP Today. Gathering together critical data on CSP markets in 2011 and 2012 based on information from more than 50 interviews with industry executives and rigorous analysis, the CSP Markets Report 2011-2012 offers a comprehensive overview not only of the US market, but of CSP markets around the world.

The report finds for example that Spain and the US are now becoming established and the industry has more clarity on expected growth, while Morocco promises to be the largest market in the MENA region. Meanwhile, Solar Millennium is revealed as the developer with the highest capacity under construction (575 MW), very closely followed by two other companies.

The report provides an analysis of the total MW capacity of CSP projects currently under construction worldwide, a run-down on trends in the US, India, Australia, South Africa, MENA and European markets, and inside info on the country most likely to dominate in emerging market CSP growth.

Editor's note: The inset shows desert tortoise fencing extending below ground so that tortoises living outside the site of Solar Trust of America's Blythe 1-GW CSP plant in Riverside County, California, can't burrow onto the site.

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CSP Today

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