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Non-nuclear energy

R&D needed for Concentrated Solar Power

Fission and radiation protection

EuroTrough solar collector under test
Why aren't CSP systems in regular use?

Because the cost is still far too high when compared with conventional electricity and heat production. Current applications are limited to those regions which provide the best solar radiation and investment framework.

Why do we need research?

  • CSP, as photovoltaic technology, could meet the world demand for electricity.
  • If CSP plants of 15% solar-to-electric conversion efficiency were to be installed in just 1% of world's desert areas they would be able to produce 16,800 TWh/year of electricity. At a plant load factor of 0.25 this corresponds to a CSP worldwide potential of 7,700GW.
  • CSP could make a major contribution to the reduction of greenhouse gases emissions. However, sustainable energy production will only be viable if the energy production costs are reduced to those of conventional energy sources or lower. Research and technological development will play a key role in achieving this.

What research is necessary for CSP?

  • Component and infrastructure costs are the two major factors governing CSP system installation costs. There is a need for reliable and easily manufactured components and to limit site preparation costs. These could be up to 50% of the total installation cost.
  • A major problem common to all renewable energies which needs to be solved is intermittent power production resulting from variable weather conditions. Electricity supply can be adapted to address demand through the use of storage systems or of hybrid systems in which CSP is used together with other energy sources such as fuel cells or biomass.

Why is EU support necessary?

  • The ability of EU industry to compete is a major issue to consider in a new market. European industry is the world leader at present. The continued development of this technology will ensure this lead increases. Research support as well as new policies on the increased utilisation of RES are needed to consolidate this position.
  • Co-operation between the EU research Framework Programmes and those of Member States could help to achieve a critical mass and provide a complementary approach creating a greater synergy. In addition, standardisation of the technology will require a common EU approach.

Bottlenecks and barriers

Stirling Engine (Courtesy of Solo-Kleinmotoren GmbH)
What are the issues that need to be addressed?

Cost reduction. This will come about as a result of mass CSP production, component improvements, and an extended lifetime and improved efficiency of complete systems.

What are the major technical barriers to be overcome?

  • High Cost: Research should be aimed at reducing both component and system costs.
  • Parabolic Trough: The operating temperature of the medium transfer fluid should be increased so that an improved efficiency is achieved. Improvement in sun tracking systems, receiver coatings and in mirror reliability would increase the reliability and the global solar efficiency.
  • Central Tower: Tower installations offer the largest range of possible applications from electricity generation to high temperature chemical processes. The main technical barriers are the development of reliable heliostats, of reliable automated operation control systems, of solar receivers operating within the temperature range of 300 to 1000°C and of equipment - such as gas turbines, chemical reactors etc. - with the ability to operate at such temperature levels.
  • Parabolic Dish: The reliability and availability of this system remains to be validated and few are in operation. Transportation, installation and maintenance issues must be addressed, as these systems will be installed mainly in remote locations.

What are the major non-technical barriers to be overcome?

  • Energy market liberalisation means that, with increased competition, energy companies will be reluctant to invest in new, risky, sustainable technologies.
  • This technology needs to become socially and economically acceptable.

What are the research priorities in this area?

The main long-term objective is for power generation costs by the three CSP concepts (trough, tower and dish) to be equal to or less than conventional electricity generation costs. Target costs are 0.08€/kWh by 2010 and 0.04€/kWh by 2015. To become economically viable the total installation cost should be below 1000€/kWe. In order to achieve this research should be focused on:

- Automated operation.
- High temperature regimes.
- Direct Steam Generation systems.
- Innovative storage systems.
- Advanced solar-enhanced chemical applications.
- Advanced modular systems.
- Advanced solar-hybrid systems.
- New non-electric applications.
- Decreasing manufacturing and installation costs.
- Improving system lifetime, reliability, efficiency and safety.
- In the future, more emphasis should be placed on the socio-economic aspects and benefits to be derived from the increased use of concentrated solar thermal power.

What were the costs in 2001?

The numbers are dependent on local solar radiation intensity and the plant design. These have been given for a solar-only operation.

  • Parabolic Trough:
    - Installation cost: 3,000-4,000€/kWe
    - Electricity generation cost: 0.12-0.20€/kWe
  • Parabolic Dish (estimated):
    - Installation cost: 7,000-10,000€/kWe
    - Electricity generation cost: unknown
  • Central Tower:
    - Installation cost: 3,000-4,000€/kWe
    - Electricity generation cost: 0.12-0.20€/kWe

What could be the future costs?

These figures have been estimated by extrapolating values for improvement and installation capacity. They are for solar-only operations.

capacity (Mwe)
cost (€/KWe)
cost (€/KWe)