Monday, April 23, 2007

The Facts on CSP

If you've spent any time reading energy blogs, you'll probably trip over some comment spam from time to time on Concentrated Solar Power. Here at NEI Nuclear Notes, we like solar power, and think it's got plenty of potential. What we don't like are folks who overhype the technology and pretend that it can become a substitute source of baseload power.

One of our contributors, Michael Stuart, just wrote a letter to Carribbean Net News outlining the case against CSP:

Inefficient
According to the California Energy Commission, all of the utility-generated solar power in the state amounts to two-tenths of one percent of the state's electricity production. Because of the limited availability of sunlight, these systems have notoriously low capacity factors and are therefore cannot be relied upon for baseload power.

Expensive
According to the California Energy Commission, at 13 to 42 cents per kWhr, solar power is *the* most expensive way to generate electricity, hands down. In a time when energy prices are skyrocketing, few people can afford a large-scale conversion to solar power. What's more, due to its low capacity factors, solar capacity must be backed up with additional stand-by power generation, which adds to the overall cost of solar.

Environmental impact
Solar collectors also require a huge area of land, which must be dedicated to solar generation. Even in the desert, this could disrupt the delicate ecology. Additionally, in order for the salts to remain molten at night, CSP requires fossil fuels to be burned for heat. According to a US Department of Energy study, these systems are "hybridized" with up to 25% natural gas. Ironically, this renewable technology is a contributor to greenhouse gas emissions!
Thanks to We Support Lee for the pointer.

1 comment:

KenG said...

To clarify the response to CSP, natural gas is not used to keep the molten salt storage hot because there are no operating CSP storage units. This is something the CSP proponents say "can" be done but no one has found it economical to do to date. In the SEGS units in California, natural gas is used to power the units when the sun is unavailable. As I understand it, natural gas is used for 25% of the generation because that is the limit allowed under the "renewable" tax break rules. They would use more natural gas if they could.