NEW REPORT: Fulfilling The Promise Of Concentrated Solar Power

A proven energy technology with a 30-year track record, concentrating solar power is a promising clean electricity source ripe for development in the United States. (Credit: AP/Southern California Edison)

Full report available here.

Low-Cost Incentives Can Spur Innovation in the Solar Market

Concentrating solar power — also known as concentrated solar power, concentrated solar thermal, and CSP — is a cost-effective way to produce electricity while reducing our dependence on foreign oil, improving domestic energy-price stability, reducing carbon emissions, cleaning our air, promoting economic growth, and creating jobs. One energy expert has even touted it as the “technology that will save humanity.”

The U.S. Department of Energy has created the SunShot Initiative to lead research into the technology — work that aims to increase efficiency, lower costs, and deliver more reliable performance from concentrating solar power. Additionally, high-profile U.S.-based companies such as IBM have invested in CSP research. Increasingly, private and public stakeholders believe that the technology holds the greatest potential to harness the power of the sun to meet national sustainability goals.

As the White House prepares a climate change reform agenda that embodies the bold spirit of this year’s State of the Union address, in which President Barack Obama emphasized executive authority to regulate greenhouse gases, Congress has begun debating the nation’s new energy future. Concentrating solar power should be a key component of this dialogue.

Some are concerned that clean technologies are too immature and unreliable to produce the vast stores of affordable baseload energy needed to power the 21st century American economy. Others are worried that the nation cannot switch to carbon-free electricity without ruining the economy. CSP technology, however, presents a compelling response to each of these concerns.

In this report we detail why the United States should invest in concentrating solar power and delineate the market and regulatory challenges to the innovation and deployment of CSP technology. We also offer the following low-cost policy solutions that can reduce risk, promote investment, and drive innovation in the CSP industry:

Reducing risk and cost of capital for clean solar energy

  • Establish an independent clean energy deployment bank.
  • Implement CLEAN contracts for concentrating solar power.
  • Reinstate the Department of Energy Loan Guarantee Program.
  • Put a national price on carbon.

Streamlining regulation and tax treatment of CSP

  • Reform the tax code to put capital-intensive clean technologies on equal footing with fossil fuels.
  • Guarantee transmissions grid connection for concentrating solar power and other solar projects.
  • Stabilize and monetize existing tax incentives.
  • Streamline the regulatory approval process by creating an interagency “onestop shop” for concentrating solar power and other clean energy power-generation facilities.
  • Ensure long-term regulatory transparency.

This piece is republished from the Center for American Progress. Endnotes and citations are available in the PDF version of this report.

19 Responses to NEW REPORT: Fulfilling The Promise Of Concentrated Solar Power

  1. Superman1 says:

    We’ve had this capability for a long time. In 1961, I designed a solar concentrator system for space power applications, using Rankine Cycle conversion. The technology was easily adaptable to ground use. I didn’t pursue that application because there was no interest.

  2. Superman1 says:

    Contrary to the theme of the article, neither that technology nor any other renewable is the first priority for saving us from going over the cliff. The first priority is to eliminate ALL unnecessary uses of fossil fuel NOW, accompanied by rapid carbon recovery and low-risk (if possible) geo-engineering. That is our only hope for survival.

  3. Mike Roddy says:

    Here’s another suggestion: Figure out a way to avoid the multiyear delays and onerous entitlement costs that whacked CSP in the Mojave. Brightsource blew $1 million per tortoise, not counting the $5k per acre for basic environmental studies. Other solar companies went broke, or decided to build in China. Meanwhile, fracking operations get waved through, without even factoring watershed damage.

    The process favors fossil fuels, and must be changed.

  4. Gingerbaker says:

    Well, I am happy to see, finally, an article on large-scale solar, even though this synopsis provided zero specific information about the technology and its costs and potentials.

    What I was not happy to see, is that once again, there was not even the slightest hint in this article by the Center for American Progress that even large-scale projects might possibly be considered outside of the for-profit free market arena.

    Here they are, touting it as the “technology that will save humanity”, yet the report speaks not a whit toward why this makes sense as a national or public project, but instead is chock full of complicated schema to make it attractive to corporations so they can somehow make the relatively large investments needed with hope that it could be profitable.

    To hell with tax incentives and investment schemes to make this technology profitable for corporations! We have been waiting for corporations to become interested in renewable energy for three decades now, and it has not worked. And we are now at the precipice.

    This is why AGW needs to be addressed by public projects. This is why a new national renewable energy utility is needed – it is in our nation’s best interest to build this infrastructure, and we don’t have time to wait for corporations to decide to commit.

    There are some things that government does best. Can we at least talk about that yet?

  5. SecularAnimist says:

    Your insistence on “eliminating all unnecessary uses of fossil fuels NOW” is vacuous given that (1) you refuse to identify any specific “unnecessary” uses of fossil fuels and (2) you offer no specific plan or measures to eliminate these unidentified “unnecessary” uses and most importantly, (3) you consistently denigrate, disparage and attack the non-fossil fuel energy sources that are already at hand, that are already being deployed at large scale all over the word, and that make it possible to eliminate ALL uses of fossil fuels, including any that might currently be “necessary”, very quickly.

    In short, your repeated regurgitation of this vacuous bumper sticker slogan is both nonsensical and dishonest — the definitive hallmarks of a troll.

  6. SecularAnimist says:

    Mike Roddy wrote: “the multiyear delays and onerous entitlement costs that whacked CSP in the Mojave”

    With all due respect, that’s nonsense. There are already multiple utility-scale solar installations in the Mojave, and more being built, and even more approved for construction, thanks to the Obama administration’s new rules that expedite the development of solar on pre-screened, less environmentally sensitive sites in and around the Mojave.

    If anything has “whacked” CSP — in the Mojave and elsewhere — it has been the plummeting cost of silicon PV. For the moment, at any rate, it is simply a lot cheaper to deploy PV than to build CSP.

  7. Joan Savage says:

    The map in the report showed CSP in France and Germany, yet I didn’t find much in the text to endorse CSP in the Northeast US.

    I yearn for a baseload supply to be put in place so as to retire the old work-horses of nuclear and coal, and even problematic versions of hydro. Wind we have, but store it we do not.

    Or are the planners expecting to sell CSP baseload supply from afar via Smart Grid?

  8. PeterW says:

    A little off topic: It looks like Egypt is rattling its sword towards Ethiopia because Ethiopia plans to build a huge hydro dam on the Nile. Apparently it’s for electricity not for irrigation. Egypt is very worried about its water supply. I would think Ethiopia would be the perfect place for solar power. To advert war wouldn’t it be in the world’s interest to replace the potential hydro power with solar?

  9. Merrelyn Emery says:

    From what I’ve read of CSP, it’s a fantastic technology but as we don’t have a local one, (only a wind farm so far) we have decided to go PV, ME

  10. Mike Roddy says:

    Yes, there are “multiple” CSP projects in the Mojave- about six of them, half of them small, and totaling less than 3000 MGW. One was built in the 90’s. That’s a far cry from the hopes of 2009, and Salazar’s fast tracking. A few thousand megawatts doesn’t put much of a dent in the market. Two coal plants in Arizona, Navajo and Four Corners, are alone about 3500 mgw.

    In 2009, people were talking about tens of thousands of CSP, to be built in a few years.

    Be careful about throwing out a word like nonsense, Secular.

  11. Mike Roddy says:

    Per above comment: tens of thousands of megwatts, of course.

  12. Omega Centauri says:

    I don’t think Mike answered the $64 billion question, can CSP come close to competing with the price of PV? I’m the first to admit that CSP is a bit more grid friendly, since there is thermal inertia -and in some cases thermal storage, which allows the production to be delayed somewhat. But what price do we pay for thermal storage?

    I’m glad some is being built -and it will be great if the Gulf states, including Saudia Arabia, have plans to give it a serious go -it would be good to find out how far down the learning curve it can be brought. But you have to face it, at this point in time CSP looks like an also ran. Have you tried selling hybrid CHP plants, siting the CSP plant near industrial process heat demand? That would seem to be one niche that it ought to do well in.

  13. Oy! Folks!

    I’m really surprised to read all these comments by my sophisticated and knowledgeable “climate chat group” (as it were) — and see how little is known about CST. (I used to use “CSP,” but now prefer CST, “concentrated solar thermal,” to CSP, “concentrated solar power.” That’s because CST systems store heat in molten salts (thermal) that allows them to provide power 24/7. CSP simply means concentrated solar power, which can produce electricity in a variety of ways but not necessary store it — in other words, CSP has the same problem that PV panels have — it can’t provide electricity at night.)

    My own basic article on the topic is a good place to start learning about this marvelous technology:

    There’s a 24/7 CST plant in Spain, Gemasolar, that’s been in operation for about two years. Several more are being built in the Sahara to power Europe using hi-tension DC lines that can transmit electricity about 1,500 miles with about a 10% voltage drop. More important, for this discussion, a plant is being built at Crescent Dunes in Nevada and will be online in 2014.

    CST has every advantage over all other forms of electrical generation, including PV solar and wind. It has, or soon will make all forms of fossil fuel and nuclear generation obsolete.

    It works simply by concentrating the sun’s rays on a tower (about 30 stories high) that contains pipes full of salt (saltpeter and other cheap and basically harmless substances). The salt melts, and through a heat exchanger drives a steam turbine, producing electricity. But the salt retains much more heat than is needed to drive the turbine, and the hot salt is stored in tanks to be reused at night. Voila — safe, pollution free (unlike PV solar), limitless.

    In the desert there are few if any cloudy days, and enough sunlight strikes America’s deserts to power the entire continent hundreds of times over. Enough strikes the world’s deserts to power all of human civilization six thousand times over.

    So we’ve got the technology. We simply need to deploy it. Please google Gemasolar, Desertec and Crescent Dunes to learn more.

  14. Mike Roddy says:

    You’ve got a point, Omega, and it looks like PV is winning out in the solar marketplace. Problem is, PV at utility scale hasn’t gained much market share either. Reasons include behind the scenes sabotage by solar opponents and easily manipulated “environmentalists”.

  15. Mulga Mumblebrain says:

    The moral, intellectual and spiritual corruption in societies totally dominated by the Right is open-ended. Of course, there will be an end to it, an unpleasant and imminent one.

  16. Superman1 says:

    Give it up; nobody’s buying your unfounded assertions anymore. All you have left is invective; the quiver is, and always has been, empty!

  17. Raul M. says:

    A nice advantage of CSP is that it captures heat and emits electricity. The electricity often emits heat as it is used. It seems to have a heat balance and it does the thing that most thought is about, providing that electrical work.

  18. Gingerbaker says:

    “So we’ve got the technology. We simply need to deploy it.”


  19. Joan Savage says:


    Having read your linked essay, I am drawing my own conclusions to my earlier questions.

    The Mohave Desert is about 2500 miles from the Northeast. Given your comment that power can be transmitted 1500 miles at 10% loss, that’s like ‘gold in them thar hills’ – a reality of sorts, that comes with a dismaying amount of logistics.

    The cost of improved cross-continent power lines and related dependency on non-local supply are not trivial. Many states are cash-strapped and seek energy self-sufficiency.

    In New York State, proposed high transmission lines might have brought energy from Canada to the New York City metro area, but the proponents met stiff resistance. The project is on indefinite hold. Had the proponents figured out how to use the right-of-ways of existing power lines, they might have met with less resistance, but not necessarily resolved all the conflicts.

    It looks like I can infer that CSP or CST haven’t been taken seriously in the Northeast or someone would have mentioned it.