The right time for solar augmentation for the CSP industry

While demand for concentrated solar power augmentation of coal-fired plants is picking up with the recent announcement of a 5MW addition to a coal plant in Chile by GDF Suez & Solar Power Group but the fast development of this new market for CSP will only succeed as the costs come down significantly

Last week's announcement by GDF SUEZ and Solar Power Group of their plans to develop a 5 MW thermal CSP plant to supply superheated steam to the 150 MW Mejillones coal-fired plant in Northern Chile indicates that demand for CSP augmentation is growing.

The opening of the solar power augmentation market as a main strategic development channel is one of the subjects that will be discussed and analysed at depth in the future technology section of the 4th International Concentrated Solar Thermal Power Summit in Sevilla (November 15-17) This event has become the most relevant meeting event for the CSP industry and it will analyse in depth the biggest trends and developments of the CSP industry.

Heavy industry and power plants in the US have so far only considered CSP steam production to reduce their emissions if they've been mandated by the state to do so - primarily because augmenting fossil fuel-powered plants still isn't economically attractive.

AREVA Solar has received a number of inquiries into CSP for emissions reduction from heavy industry in the US. "(Natural) gas prices are just far lower right now, so the cost of using any solar technology is much higher," Goyal said. "Gas hovers around US$4-$5 per Mtbu, and with solar you're looking at US$9-$11 per Mtbu for generation of steam. That's clearly why, in the absence of any incentive like renewable portfolio standards or investment tax credits there for power generation, it's hard to make the numbers work. If gas prices go up, it's a much more compelling story."

An existing power plant or heavy industry has costly and time-consuming hurdles like transmission, power blocks, plant permits and manpower already in place. The capital, infrastructure, and O&M savings make CSP augmentation favourable.

There are a number of greenfield power plants around the world that are being built as hybrids with CSP solar fields, with several in North Africa and the Middle East. The benefit of designing a CSP hybrid plant from scratch is that equipment can be tailored to accept a higher percentage of solar power, Libby said.

Many new conventional power combined-cycle plants outside of the United States being built now are trying to adapt design to allow solar steam additions in the future.

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