Business Opportunities in Solar Thermal – Power Applications

While the solar PV power plants utilize the light from the sunlight for photoelectric effect to generate electricity, the heat from the sunlight can also be used to generate power – this time, through a much more common process of heating water to generate steam which turns a turbine.
In order to generate superheated steam at high pressure that can run a turbine, we will not be able to use ordinary thermal collectors that are used for products such as water heaters, as these can heat water only up to a temperature of about 70°C. To generate such temperatures, mirrors or lenses that can concentrate the sunlight are required.

This avenue of concentrating the sunlight to generate high temperatures and subsequently superheated steam is called Concentrating Solar Power (CSP). The approach of CSP is similar to that of concentrating solar thermal, except that the temperatures reached in this case are even higher than that for CST.

Concentrating Solar Power Vital Statistics

  • Sunlight is concentrated, using mirrors or directly, on to receivers heating the circulating fluid which further generates steam &/or electricity
  • Temp~400°C
  • Good DNI range ≥ 5-6 kWh/sq.m/day
  • Capital Cost: $ 4-8 Million / MW (Increases with Heat Storage); In India, about 10-12 Crores per MW
  • Land Required: ~ 6-10 acres / MW
  • Units: 18-20 Lakh Units /MW/ year (Increases with Heat Storage)
  • Capacity Factor: Upto 25% (Can be increased to 40% using Heat storage)
  • Cost of generation: Rs 12-15 / kWh
  • Lifespan: ~ 40 years, but PPAs usually only for 25 years
  • Installation Period: ~ 2-3 years (Capacity dependent)
  • Working Cycle: Rankine Cycle, Brayton cycle, Stirling cycle
  • Heat Storage: Nitrate Molten Salt type (60% NaNO3 + 40% kNO3)

Concentrating Solar Power Advantages over Solar PV and Wind Power

  • Advantages over Competitive Technologies (Esp. PV & Wind)
    • Heat Storage option – Electricity Supply after Sunset
    • Process Heat Generation -Hybrid Option
    • Good for High temperature regions
    • Predictable and reliable power (less variable)
    • Water desalination along with electricity generation (Adv. In Middle east & N. Africa)

Types of Concentrating Solar Power Plants

  • Small Scale CSP
  • Medium Scale CSP
  • Large Scale CSP
  • CSP Technology
    • Types
      • Power Tower
      • Fresnel Reflectors
      • Parabolic Dish
      • Dish Stirling
    • Components
      • Mirrors
      • Lenses
      • Heating Liquid
      • Trackers
    • Power Generation
      • Rankine Cycle
      • Organic Rankine Cycle
      • Stirling Engine
      • Solar Thermal Hybrid for Power
      • Solar Thermal – Biomass Hybrid
      • Solar Thermal – Conventional Thermal Hybrid

Storage for Concentrating Solar Power

  • Types of Storage
    • Molten Salt Storage
    • A few more are emerging but at a nascent stage currently.

Highlights of Concentrating Solar Power

  • Not as modular as PV
  • Typically, 50 MW and above
  • NSM allotments
  • Big Boys game
  • Four competing technologies, winner is not clear though parabolic trough is the leading technology currently.
  • Owing to uncertainty and long , trails PV significantly
  • But could be much larger in future, and even overtake PV if storage and environmental aspects work out
  • As of March 2015, the installed CSP capacity now stands at over 4.5 GW, with a further 11 GW in the pipeline.
  • Since 2010, Spain has been the world’s leader in concentrated solar power (CSP), and by the end of 2012 had installed over 2,000 MW of CSP. As of January 2014, Spain had a total capacity of 2,300 MW making this country the world leader in CSP.
  • With nearly 1,495 MW of operational plants as of September 2014, in addition to 111 MW in commissioning and 287 MW under construction, the U.S. CSP market is currently the second largest in the world.
  • Two 50 MW CSP projects have been announced in Saudi Arabia to date, both as part of Integrated Solar Combined Cycle (ISCC) plants
  • As of September 2014, India had around 182 MW of CSP projects in operation and commissioning, and another 76 MW under construction.
  • In early 2013, the UAE grabbed international attention with the installation of the 100 MW Shams 1, the world’s largest operational CSP project at the time.


Global Concentrating Solar Power Capacity


Concentrating Solar Thermal Power Global Capacity 1984-2012

Business Opportunities in Concentrating Solar Power

Similar to those for PV, business opportunities exist in the following:

  • As a power plant developer
  • As an EPC of solar CSP power plants
  • As a component supplier

Unlike CSP however, business opportunities in CSP are not too many for small and medium business owing to the fact that CSP is not (at least as of mid-2015) as modular as solar PV. As a result, most opportunities in CSP require much higher investments than do opportunities in solar PV. In addition, CSP projects carry much higher risk currently owing to the technology and scale challenges.

Owing to all these, Solar Mango does not recommend CSP for small and medium businesses currently. However, medium and large companies, especially those with appetite for taking risks and having strengths in engineering innovations could find both manufacturing and service opportunities in CSP to be attractive, as this domain has significantly much less competition than does solar PV.

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India Renewable Energy Expert