After much debate, it appears the concept of hybridising biomass and solar power in solar thermal electric plants is here to stay. Recently, companies such as Abantia, Comsa Emte, Solarlite and Sialsol, in conjunction with the trade association Protermosolar, announced such initiatives, now CTAER has revealed that it is committed to the technological development of hybridisation. The centre has managed to procure all the financing for a hybridisation project after approval by the Ministry of Economy, Innovation and Science of Andalusia of a grant covering 62.6% of the total cost of its research project.
The remaining 37.4% of the funding, which amounts to €1,751,113, will be put up by CTAER through private capital. Over 30 months, researchers at the centre and a company from the solar thermal electric sector will conduct a project, which in its initial phase “will establish the basic characteristics and engineering of an experimental hybrid solar-biomass plant, whereby, in a second stage, it only has to be built, monitored and evaluated to enable companies to make it commercially viable," said CTAER in a recent statement.
Biomass gasification and method for analysing profitability
In the same statement, the centre specified that "the planned work includes an experimental stage to analyse the behaviour of some parts of the process, such as the biomass gasifier and power system required to link the two renewable energy technologies (solar and biomass)". The outcome will be a piece of software for simulating a pilot plant for industrial development. The project will also look at the economic viability of the process, including a method to accurately map the performance of hybrid plants and a complementary IT support tool.
Valeriano Ruiz, President of Protermosolar and CTAER, insists that "the electric system of the future must be based on renewable energies and, indeed, solar should form the foundation of that system, either through photovoltaics or solar thermal electricity. In the latter case, this technology needs to be supported by a storable energy source, making the entire system manageable, whereby solar-biomass hybridisation is ideal". Ruiz also points out that "the concept of cogeneration cannot be ignored in any event".
Better biomass than gas
For Ruiz, using biomass also has other advantages from the point of view of plant location, "allowing well-balanced hybrid plants to be built where there is less sunlight, which usually coincide with places where there is more biomass".
CTAER’s announcement comes shortly after Xavier Garcia, an aeronautical engineer responsible along with Greenpeace for the Renewables 2050 report, said in an interview with Energías Renovables that allowing gas to be hybridised with solar thermal electric plants is a regulatory mistake. "Instead of saying that since one is burning gas, one will only get paid for the power generated by the gas at the market rate, two or three cents, while what is generated from the sun will be paid at the 20-cent premium." the result is that "everything is in the same box… one can hybridise with gas up to 15% and one will be remunerated for all the kilowatt-hours generated as if they were all from solar thermal electric power."
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