More transparency needed on solar field cost and performance

Novatec Biosol will be participating actively in the 4th International Concentrated Solar Thermal Power Summit (Nov 15-17) as an exhibitor and sponsor. The rise of the Fresnel system to the hierarchy of CSP is one of the issues that will be actively discussed at this industry flagship event.

CSP Today: What are the next steps to achieving greater cost competitiveness in CSP?

Martin Selig: What is really important is that we have a close look at the cost of efficiency of various CSP technologies. We need to look at the parabolic trough field, at the power tower systems - only the solar fields, and assess the specific costs of solar thermal energy. That is the key. This cost has to come down.

We have to create competition, and this can only come about if we have more EPC contractors out there with the competence to offer CSP plants to the broader market. At the moment there are only a few players out there.

Turnkey solar boiler solutions like ours are key to creating more competition that will bring the overall cost of CSP down. If you offer a turn-key solution, every EPC contractor integrating such a thing wants to know: what is the boiler efficiency and what does it cost?

At the moment I do not see too many solar field manufacturers offering guarantees and key performance indicators for their solar systems. This is something we are waiting for. This would make it much easier to compare one system with another.

CSP Today: You mentioned earlier that if the US$550bn in annual global fossil fuel subsidies were removed, today, renewable energies like CSP would emerge as being more cost competitive. Does this mean that CSP is already competitive with conventional power (gas and coal), in terms of plant yield?

Martin Selig: At the end of the day it comes down to cost efficiency. We have to be able to generate steam at as low a cost as coal and gas.
This is something I think we have achieved with Nova 1. With this technology, we can generate steam using solar energy at a lower cost than could be achieved with fossil fuels on the basis of oil prices, and at a similar cost based on natural gas prices.

People should be aware of the cost-competitiveness of CSP compared with steam-generated power from fossil fuels. The total cost of such a solar field investment, divided by the heat thermal energy heat, gives a specific cost of thermal energy unit.

Once we have reached a point where the specific cost is lower or similar to the heat value of the fossil fuels, then we have a breakthrough in the market.
We are now at that point. Now it is up to the power plant engineers to figure out suitable power plant designs to making the best use out of this opportunity.

There is also a new opportunity to integrate a solar system into existing or new power plants to substitute (at least during day time) the same or more expensive fossil fuels.

CSP Today: In the MENA region there is an issue with water scarcity and water prices. How does this impact on the cost competitiveness of CSP (given its high water requirement)?

Martin Selig: This is a valid point: we have the same problem on the water market as we do with the electricity market.

Water prices in these countries do not reflect the real cost, because they are highly subsidised. For this reason it is very important to have a solar technology that has low water requirement.

CSP Today: You mentioned the market opportunity presented by CSP retrofitting. Is Novatec Biosol focusing - in the mid-term at least - on this market?

Martin Selig: Oh yes, definitely. The big problem we have at the moment is the lead-time into the market. If you go down the path of Greenfield developments, we have to wait another 2-3 years until these projects might be developed and built before we can even come up with our solution now.

The shortcut into that market is to take the existing power stations in the sunbelt and then it is up to us as to how long we might need to build on a solar boiler to substitute the daytime fossil fuel combustion.

CSP Today: There are limitations when it comes to retrofitting - land availability and geographical site conditions, to name a few. To what extent does this limit the overall market opportunity?

Martin Selig: This is right, but at least there should be some gigawatts out there are generated via the integration of solar boilers with existing plants.

CSP Today: What is the estimated market value for the CSP solar booster market and ISCC plants in Northern African countries?

Martin Selig: These countries face a huge ramp up and have a huge requirement for new installed capacity. Given the recent growth of wealth and population, I think that these countries are looking at building new power plants, which will be the main focus.

Therefore I think that there will be markets for new CSP plants and for retrofitting older ones. There will be a robust market for both, most definitely.

CSP Today: It appears there is greater (government and industry) support for ISCC and solar booster projects, than there is for stand alone CSP. Would you say this is the case?

Martin Selig: In some countries, yes. In Algeria they are favouring the integrated solar combined cycle model, but this only leads to a solar share of say 5-10%, which is not very much.

Morrocco, on the other hand, is looking to build real solar power plants that have a substantial solar share (100%).
So you can see that in the region there is quite a wide spread of different solar power plant installations.

CSP Today: Water is a scarce commodity in the region, and given the energy requirement to power desalination plants, is there a business case for powering these units with CSP, rather than with coal and gas?

Martin Selig: In the United Arab Emirates, some of the power plants are directly linked to the desalination plants. During winter they still have a high water demand but much lower electricity demand, so they have difficulties in matching both demand curves.

In this case, de-coupling power from desalination by using a solar boiler to power these desalination plants during winter could be a real option.

When it comes to desalination, you are talking about coastal areas where typical land values are much higher than in the desert. Therefore it is very important to have a high land-use efficiency.

Our Nova1 system is able to generate 30% more solar thermal energy than a parabolic trough solar field, on the same amount of land. The land use efficiency with our technology is much better and we think this is a key advantage for desalination plant applications.

About CSP Today

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For information about the 4th International Concentrated Solar Thermal Power Summit please visit

Contact details:
Belén Gallego
Founder & Director
CSP Today

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