BREAKING IN BIG SUN IN NORTH AFRICA
ISCC: Foot in the door to North Africa's renewable energy market
Jason Deign, 15 April 2011 (CSP Today)
"…The contribution that CSP will make to the Hassi-R’Mel integrated solar combined cycle (ISCC) power plant developers Abener and Teyma are expected to [soon] deliver to New Energy Algeria (NEAL)… is small, in the order of five percent…[But in] North Africa, the key thing about ISCC, which is where a CSP field is essentially tacked onto a traditional power plant, is probably not the amount of solar power it feeds into the grid but the fact that solar is there in the first place.
"On paper, ISCC makes a lot of sense. The solar field helps the plant produce lower-emissions power during daylight hours while conventional fuels help reduce the total cost of energy and maximise the use of the steam turbine…In practice, though, the benefits are less clear. Adding a solar field to a traditional power plant significantly increases the construction costs…"
Schematic of an integrated solar combined cycle (ISCC) power plant (click to enlarge)
"The 130MW Kuraymat ISCC facility in Egypt cost in the order of EUR€220 million…That compares to around €140 million for a conventional coal or gas-fired plant…And although CSP allows the plant to deliver more energy for less cost, the 26 MW of solar-powered electricity it can deliver does not come free…[T]he entire [parabolic trough] collector field has to be washed up to once a week with distilled water, which is not exactly cheap in Egypt…[and it is not known] how well the components of an ISCC plant will withstand the loads and stresses created by the variable output from the solar field, which might lead to higher-than-expected maintenance and repair costs…
"…[All] for what is ultimately a very modest increase in generating capacity…Kuraymat’s solar contribution could potentially reach a peak of 15.6% of total output, over a year it [man not] exceed 3.9%…[No ISCC project in the world has produced] more than about 10% of the total energy from solar…"
The Hassi-R’Mel ISCC facility under construction, solar troughs in the foreground, the gas plant in the distance. (click to enlarge)
"…In North Africa, [where natural gas is cheap and plentiful,] the reason [to do it] might be that ISCC is an economically and politically expedient first step towards a wider adoption of solar power…Kuraymat’s inflated price tag…is still a fraction of the €650 million or so it would have cost to build a CSP-only plant with the same capacity…[and] because of the solar field it qualified as a clean power generation project in the eyes of the World Bank, making it eligible for Global Environment Facility funding worth USD$50 million.
"…[P]olitically, ISCC strikes a neat balance between being seen to act progressively in terms of introducing renewable energy while at the same time pandering to the demands of the domestic fossil fuel market…If other North African countries are following this train of thought then Hassi-R’mel, Kuraymat and Morocco’s Ain-Ben-Mathar, the three ISCC plants currently in the region, could soon be joined by more…"