Since 2001, EASAC has produced over 30 scientific recommendations in the fields of biosciences, energy and the environment, and has made these available to the relevant decision-makers at EU level – in the European Commission, the European Parliament and the Council of the European Union. Its current statement is entitled “Concentrating Solar Power: its potential contribution to a sustainable energy future”, and describes the potential that solar power plants have for helping ensure a sustainable future for our energy supply.
One of the key declarations in the paper is that solar thermal power plants are a reliable technology that can play a major role in helping the European grid switch to renewable energies. Unlike other types of renewable energy, solar thermal power delivers electricity as needed and could therefore be used to stabilise the grid. The statement was compiled by leading European scientists. The working group was headed by Professor Robert Pitz-Paal, Co-Director at the Institute of Solar Research of the German Aerospace Centre in Cologne.
Pitz-Paal and his team conclude that concentrating solar power (CSP) is capable of harnessing the immense solar resource in Southern Europe, the Middle East and North Africa (the MENA region), and elsewhere. With the European Union establishing challenging targets for making a transition to a sustainable energy system in Europe, including that the EU’s electricity supply should achieve essentially zero emissions of greenhouse gases by 2050, this resource should be tapped, especially given the cost reductions that are expected in CSP technology.
60% cost reductions possible
The EASAC states that provided that commercial deployments of CSP plants continue to grow, and that these deployments are associated with sustained research, development and demonstration programmes, CSP generating cost reductions of 50–60% may reasonably be expected over the next 10–15 years.
“Allowing for some escalation in fossil fuel prices and incorporation of the costs of CO2 emissions in fossil generation costs (through carbon pricing mechanisms and/or requirements to install carbon capture and storage), it is anticipated that CSP should become cost competitive with base-load fossil-based generation at some point between 2020 and 2030. In specific locations with good solar resources this point may be reached earlier,” says the Council.
In addition , CSP plants that incorporate thermal storage and/or supplementary firing offer additional potential benefits beyond the value of the kilowatt-hours that they generate, as they can provide dispatchable power, helping the grid operator to reliably match supply and demand, and maintain grid stability.
“The value of this capability is context specific, but increases as the proportion of electricity generated by variable renewable sources such as wind and photovoltaics increases. CSP with storage may therefore, in future, offer a cost-effective way of enabling the incorporation of substantial contributions of variable renewable sources in electricity systems,” the Council adds.
The solar resource in Southern Europe is such that CSP could provide a useful contribution to achieving Europe’s aim of a zero-carbon electricity system by 2050. Solar resources in the MENA region are even better, and far larger. Despite the forecast cost reductions, the authors of the statement highlight that “well-designed incentive schemes will be needed, which reflect the real, time-varying value of generation” so that CSP plants are appropriately designed, and which effectively drive research and development activities.
Incentive schemes need to ensure that cost data are made available so that the learning rate, and its underlying drivers, can be established and monitored, and consequently energy strategies and incentive schemes can be adjusted as appropriate. Substantial investments will also be needed in transmission infrastructure, including high voltage direct current links between the MENA region and Europe, if substantial quantities of CSP electricity are to be exported from MENA countries to Europe.
MENA solar projects in pipeline
The development of CSP in the MENA region is a potentially significant component of initiatives to support low-carbon economic development and political progress in the region as reflected in the Barcelona Process, the Deauville Partnership, the Mediterranean Solar Plan, etc.
Another such initiative, Desertec, is to start building its first power plant next year, a 500 megawatt facility in Morocco costing up to €2 billion. The first phase of the 12-square-kilometre Moroccan complex will be a 150 MW facility costing up to €600 million that will take two to four years to build.
Skills development across the region
The Desertec Foundation is also working together with partners from Germany and the Mediterranean region to address skills gaps in the solar sector through two new projects.
The first project, also located in Morocco, is a co-operation between Morocco and the German Federal State of Schleswig-Holstein. Called “WEREEMa”, it aims to consolidate through knowledge-transfer Moroccan expertise in the field of renewable energies.
"Morocco is ideal for the implementation of the Desertec concept," said Dr. Meriem Rezgaoui, Moroccan Project Manager at the Desertec Foundation. "Morocco is one of the most stable countries in the region. In response to the Arab Spring, the King did not rely on confrontation but on far-reaching reforms. In addition, the country already has plans in place to invest several billion Euros to create jobs and reduce dependency on imported fossil fuels by greatly expanding its renewable energy production. Crucially, a transmission line linking the Moroccan and Spanish power grids, already exists. This means, in a few years, renewable energy generated in Morocco could begin to flow to Europe, as well as meeting the country’s own needs.”
Another project entitled "RE-Generation MENA" funded by the Foreign Office of the Federal Republic of Germany, aims to create stability through jobs in the solar sector in Egypt and Tunisia.
"The objective is to focus on a greater involvement of students in Egypt and Tunisia, equipping them with the skills to contribute fully to the democratic process and to demand the necessary conditions for the expansion of renewable energies," says the German-Egyptian Nagi Siam, head of the project at Desertec Foundation. Support comes from the Desertec University Network, a network of around 20 universities in North Africa and the Middle East, which is committed to the development of know-how and the implementation of programs related to renewable energies.
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