Last week, I wrote about my visit to the Shams-1 hybrid thermal solar-natural gas plant in Abu Dhabi. This 100MW plant, which combines concentrated solar power (CSP) with natural gas, is capable of generating power around the clock. The plant’s technical support manager, Abdulazoz Al Obaidli, said that it was unclear whether more plants like this one would be built, seeing as how new solar photovoltaic plants were challenging this technology on both price and efficiency. Improvements could also be realized with this approach, but it’s unclear, especially given the long lead times for building a plant like this, what the comparison will be down the road.
While CSP plants are basically steam plants with mirrors, photovoltaics are semi-conductors which have a tendency to follow something called Moore’s Law that has seen performance doubling and costs dropping at regular intervals like clockwork. And though we tend to think of PV in terms of small rooftop installations, there are, in fact 19 PV plants of 100MW or more, the largest being the Topaz Solar Farm in San Luis Obispo, CA, which weighs in at 550MW.
While the matter is far from settled, there are a number of other challenges facing CSP, sometimes called solar thermal plants, which use the heat of the sun to produce steam, unlike photovoltaics that convert sunlight directly in electricity. The CSP plants, given the thermal mass of fluids in the system, do produce more stable power and are thus better suited to baseline applications.
Image courtesy of BrightSource
RP Siegel, author and inventor, shines a powerful light on numerous environmental and technological topics. He has been published in business and technical journals and has written three books. His third, co-authored with Roger Saillant, is Vapor Trails, an eco-thriller that is being adapted for the big screen. RP is a professional engineer – and a prolific inventor, with 50 patents, numerous awards, and several commercial products. He is president of Rain Mountain LLC and is an active environmental advocate in his hometown of Rochester, N.Y. In addition to Justmeans, he writes for Triple Pundit, ThomasNet News, and Energy Viewpoints, occasionally contributing to Mechanical Engineering, Strategy + Business, and Huffington Post.
KEYWORDS: Energy, Business & Trade, Shams-1, Moore's Law, Topaz Solar Farm, Solana, Mohave, abengoa, BrightSource, David Crane, NRG, Ivanpah, REITs, Subsidies, MLPs, Justmeans, 3bl media llc