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  • How Solar Serves The Heartlands

    Monday, October 13, 2014


    Technology Roadmap, 2014: Solar Thermal Electricity

    September 2014 (International Energy Agency)

    Key Findings and Actions

    z Since 2010, generation of solar thermal electricity (STE) from concentrating solar power (CSP) plants has grown strongly worldwide, though more slowly than expected in the first IEA CSP roadmap (IEA, 2010). The first commercial plants were deployed in California in the 1980s. A resurgence of solar power in Spain was limited to 2.3 gigawatts (GW) by the government in the context of the financial and economic crisis. Deployment in the United States was slow until 2013 because of long lead times and competition from cheap unconventional gas and from photovoltaic (PV) energy, whose costs decreased rapidly.1 Deployment in other places took off only recently.

    z Global deployment of STE, about 4 GW at the time of publication, pales in comparison with PV (150 GW). Costs of CSP plants have dropped but less than those of PV. However, new CSP components and systems are coming to commercial maturity, holding the promise of increased efficiency, declining costs and higher value through increased dispatchability. New markets are emerging on most continents where the sun is strong and skies clear enough, including the Americas, Australia, the People's Republic of China, India, the Middle East, North Africa and South Africa.

    z This roadmap envisions STE’s share of global electricity to reach 11% by 2050 – almost unchanged from the goal in the 2010 roadmap. This shows that the goal for PV in the companion roadmap (IEA, 2014a) is not increased at the detriment of STE in the long term. Adding STE to PV, solar power could provide up to 27% of global electricity by 2050, and become the leading source of electricity globally as early as 2040. Achieving this roadmap's vision of 1 000 GW of installed CSP capacity by 2050 would avoid the emissions of up to 2.1 gigatonnes (Gt) of carbon dioxide (CO2) annually.

    z From a system perspective, STE offers significant advantages over PV, mostly because of its built-in thermal storage capabilities. STE is firm and can be dispatched at the request of power grid operators, in particular when demand peaks in the late afternoon, in the evening or early morning, while PV generation is at its best in the middle of the day. Both technologies, while being competitors on some projects, are ultimately complementary.

    z The value of STE will increase further as PV is deployed in large amounts, which shaves mid-day peaks and creating or beefing up evening and early morning peaks. STE companies have begun marketing hybrid projects associating PV and STE to offer fully dispatchable power at lower costs to some customers.

    z Combined with long lead times, this dynamic explains why deployment of CSP plants would remain slow in the next ten years compared with previous expectations. Deployment would increase rapidly after 2020 when STE becomes competitive for peak and mid-merit power in a carbon-constrained world, ranging from 30 GW to 40 GW of new-built plants per year after 2030.

    z Appropriate regulatory frameworks – and well-designed electricity markets, in particular – will be critical to achieve the vision in this roadmap. Most STE costs are incurred up-front, when the power plant is built. Once built, CSP plants generate electricity almost for free. This means that investors need to be able to rely on future revenue streams so that they can recover their initial capital investments. Market structures and regulatory frameworks that fail to provide robust long-term price signals beyond a few months or years are thus unlikely to attract sufficient investment to achieve this roadmap’s vision in particular and timely decarbonisation of the global energy system in general.

    Key Actions in the Next Five Years

    z Set long-term targets, supported by predictable mechanisms to drive investments.

    z Address non-economic barriers and develop streamlined procedures for permitting.

    z Remunerate STE according to its value, which depends on time of delivery.

    z Implement support schemes with fair remuneration to investors but predictable decrease over time of the level of support.

    z Design and implement investment markets for new-built CSP plant and other renewable energy plants, and markets for ancillary services.

    z Avoid retroactive legislative changes.

    z Work with financing circles and other stakeholders to reduce financing costs for STE deployment, in particular involving private money and institutional investors.

    z Reduce the costs of capital and favour innovation in providing loan guarantees, and concessional loans in emerging economies.

    z Strengthen research, development and demonstration (RD&D) efforts to further reduce costs.

    z Strengthen international collaboration on RD&D and exchanges of best practices.


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