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French nuclear giant Areva buys Ausra, says solar thermal power market may increase 30-fold by 2020

By Joe Romm  

"French nuclear giant Areva buys Ausra, says solar thermal power market may increase 30-fold by 2020"

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French energy giant Areva has bought U.S.-based Ausra in order “to become a world leader in concentrated solar thermal” power (CSP).  And so the race is on for market share in “The Technology that will Save Humanity.”

CSP is the most scalable and affordable baseload (or, even better, load-following) low-carbon supply technology — when used with low-cost, high-efficiency thermal storage.  CSP can also share its steam turbine with biomass, a strategy the Chinese are pursuing, or with natural gas (see “Hybrid solar/gas plants provide low-cost, low-carbon power when needed“).

The Oil Drum wonders if Areva is “losing faith in the oft-predicted but unrealised ‘nuclear renaissance’.”   Certainly, Areva’s best-known product is pricing itself out of the market (see Areva has acknowledged that the cost of a new reactor today would be as much as 6 billion euros, or $8 billion, double the price offered to the Finns).

CSP, on the other hand, has just started down the experience curve and is poised to be one of the major winners in the low-carbon economy.  Indeed, Bloomberg/BusinessWeek [another corporate merger?] reports:

Areva SA of France predicts the global use of solar-thermal power will grow by about 30-fold this decade, a forecast that spurred the world’s largest maker of nuclear reactors to buy a California-based equipment maker.

The technology, which typically uses curved mirrors to focus sunlight to generate electricity, will be installed on plants with 20,000 megawatts of power potential by 2020, Anil Srivastava, Areva renewable energies executive vice president, said in an interview. That compares with about 625 megawatts today, according to Bloomberg New Energy Finance data.

“It is a very attractive market,” Srivastava said. Paris- based Areva aims to become a world leader in solar thermal, he said, after agreeing yesterday to buy Ausra Inc., a Mountain View, California-based maker of sun-driven steam generators used by power plants.

Many big international companies are trying to become leaders in CSP:

Siemens AG, Europe’s largest engineering company, agreed last year to a $418 million purchase of Beit Shemesh, Israel- based Solel Solar Ltd. Abengoa SA, also an engineering company, is building 13 solar-thermal plants in Spain that will benefit from consumer subsidies for clean energy….

Bloomberg New Energy Finance has forecast the installed base to grow to as much as 34,000 megawatts worldwide by 2020, exceeding the estimate of the French atomic-reactor maker.

Whether 20 GW in 2020 or 34 GW, CSP is a very fast-growing market (see “World’s largest solar plant with thermal storage to be built in Arizona “” total of 8500 MW of this core climate solution planned for 2014 in U.S. alone“).  And ultimately that’s why Areva says it is jumping in:

The market for concentrated solar power plants is expected to grow substantially in the next decade with an average annual growth rate of 20% and should reach an estimated installed capacity of over 20 GW by 2020. With this acquisition, AREVA is poised to capture the leading position of this attractive and growing market.

The Obama DOE is aggressively pursuing the technology, too:

The U.S. Department of Energy is ramping up research into what’s also called “concentrated solar power,” funding almost 30 projects and working with companies including New York-based Alcoa Inc. and Spain’s Abengoa with the aim of making the technology competitive in the baseload power market by 2020.

But ultimately, there is only one way this country can maintain the level of investment that other countries do, only one way to win the clean energy race — pass the clean energy bill.

For more on climate solutions, click here.

‹ BBC asks CRU’s Phil Jones the climate version of “When did you stop beating your wife.”

More conclusive proof of global warming ›

24 Responses to French nuclear giant Areva buys Ausra, says solar thermal power market may increase 30-fold by 2020

  1. SecularAnimist says:

    How ironic that Areva — whose “next generation” nuclear power plant under construction in Finland is billions of dollars over budget, years behind schedule, and mired in the same safety problems that have always plagued nuclear power — is investing in CSP, just as the Obama administration is getting ready to squander tens of billions of dollars of taxpayer money to bail out the failed nuclear power industry, while Energy Secretary Chu embarrasses himself by admitting that he didn’t even know about the US government’s own study that found a greater than 50 percent chance of default on Federal loan guarantees for new nuclear power plants.

    The misdirection of vast resources into the nuclear sink hole will have real, and very negative, consequences for the struggle to reduce CO2 emissions.

  2. paulm says:

    I don’t think Obama is going to spend much on Nuclear, he is no fool….

  3. joe1347 says:

    But Obama has to spend (waste!) $50 Billion on Nuclear Power just to get the Republicans to allow him to spend a couple million on solar. It’s a fair trade – isn’t it?

    Tell me again why I should aspire to a career in solar energy?

  4. Jeff Huggins says:

    Awhile back, I did some work that involved becoming somewhat familiar with the various approaches of a number of CSP (Concentrated Solar Thermal Power) companies.

    Solar energy — including CSP — has huge potential and will be a necessarily huge part of the solution to our global warming and energy problems. Period. It’s obvious — and it becomes even much more obvious when you get into it and look at the facts, trends, and inevitabilities.

    But, what’s up — and what are we thinking — when we sit around and our CSP companies are bought up by international companies?? Mountain View is about 20 minutes from where I live, and here we are, going so slow (in terms of public policy, economic incentives, pricing carbon, and so forth) that one of our companies is sold off, so to speak.

    By our slowness and stupidity — yes, that’s the best and most generous word I can presently think of — we are shooting ourselves in the feet.

    I’m waiting for some LEADERSHIP in Washington. To Washington: Lead, or get way out of the way.

    Joe, perhaps at some point you could do an update on the status of the various companies focused on solar thermal using all sorts of approaches — Ausra, eSolar, the company that Chevron is invested in (the tower company, starts with a B I think, can’t remember right now), and so forth.

    Let’s wake up, people.

    Cheers,

    Jeff

  5. fj2 says:

    Concentrated solar thermal everywhere!

    Wonder about the feasibility of retrofitting the surfaces of NYC’s skyscrapers to perform CSP with other buildings, etc.?

  6. Roney Reis says:

    Ausra has 70 employees. How small.Areva is nuclear. I suspect they want to get the next nuclear plants.

    We can send out more foreign jobs.

  7. MarkB says:

    Joe,

    I wanted to pass this along in case you haven’t blogged on it. It seemed to fly well under the radar. Deniers obsessed with the “hockey stick” (which has little implications for manmade global warming) have yet another group of scientists to smear.

    http://www.scientificamerican.com/article.cfm?id=still-hotter-than-ever

    I believe the paper is in press or in revision, so maybe it’s a good idea to wait until it’s officially published.

    http://www.people.fas.harvard.edu/~tingley/mean_variance.pdf

    The main point of the paper is to discuss regional variation in the northern hemisphere and a link between warmer temperatures and greater variation. The conclusion for recent warmth is even more anomalous than previous estimates.

    “According to the proxy records, the 1906-1990 period is warmer than the
    medieval period, but the spatial variability is not significantly different within the two periods.”

    I found the following line to be quite interesting:

    “If, as expected, surface temperatures continue to rise in the fu-
    ture, we expect, based on past trends, that the spatial dispersion of the surface temperature distribution will likely increase as well.”

    Figure 1 caption:

    “Bottom panel: an increase in both the mean and the standard deviation leads to much larger areas of high temperatures, with
    a small (relative to the upper panel) reduction in the areas of low temperatures.”

    So if I read that right (which I might not be…careful reading is in order), way more heat extremes, but not as much of a benefit in reduced cold extremes. It tends to provide some evidence for the general “a warmer climate is a more variable climate” notion, with regards to temperature variation in this case.

  8. Alex Carlin says:

    30-fold by 2020? Great, but we need only 100 miles by 100 miles of CSP to supply the entire US electric grid. Same for China. Same for India. Same for Europe (via the Sahara). If the world doesn’t stop burning coal for electric power by 2030 we lock in sea level rises of 20 feet this century. http://www.inthesetimes.com/article/5248/100_miles_of_mirrors/
    So lets demand it: “100 Miles of Mirrors”. Unfortunately we are so late in the game that we need a very simple message. And THE PUBLIC must demand it, or we will be too late. But the public needs a very simple message that makes sense and does the job. 100 Miles of Mirrors.

  9. dhogaza says:

    Deniers obsessed with the “hockey stick” (which has little implications for manmade global warming) have yet another group of scientists to smear.

    the CA gang has already descended upon the SciAm discussion of the paper with the typical “Yamal is a fraud” crap. The smear is underway.

  10. mike roddy says:

    The Ausra people are very capable, and Areva made a good investment. Troughs are a proven technology, and therefore financible.

    More intriguing to a lot of people are the ideas coming from eSolar and a few other early stage companies. They feature small and lightweight rectangular heliostats, and employ high tech polymers, thin and highly reflective coatings, and, especially, nimble microprocessor controls, which achieve precision in capturing maximum sunlight. eSolar’s first big job is in China. Let’s hope that the cost data becomes public enough to stimulate more research and deployment in this area. Most of these design ideas cannot be patented, and derive from interest in both precision and parsimonious use of raw materials.

    These principles are a lot more important than people realize. Most solar desert locations have high wind loads of at least 100 mph. This means heavier foundations and sturdier designs than one would imagine for elements designed strictly to reflect sunlight. A simple and cheap looking reflector is required to have relatively deep foundations and powerful connection hardware. Lighter and lower profile heliostats with precise electronics result in cascading economies. Design and experience here is actually more important than scale.

  11. Smart move for Areva to broaden their energy horizon and look to the future. While we may, indeed, see a new round of nuclear power in some locations, it’s still not a long term play – renewables are the wave to ride.

  12. Roger says:

    I agree with Jeff (#8) above: we need real LEADERSHIP in Washington!

    It seems that Obama is starting to pick up the ball a bit more, but we are still waiting for him to spell out the true situation to Americans in a long-overdue “State of the Climate” address, designed to educate.

    For those who won’t listen to the president, let’s do climate TV ads to educate the misinformed public, funded by eliminating the depletion credits that our government now allows fossil fuel companies to take, hence lessening the taxes they pay.

    Anyone who agrees that Obama should educate and lead the American people on climate can encourage him to do so by signing the petition to Obama that the Global Warming Education Network (GWEN) is hosting on Change.org. More info on this, and the Citizens Climate Congress being organized in WDC on Earth Day, can also be found at http://www.gwenet.org.

    Climate activists: All together now: Let’s focus on President Obama!

  13. prokaryote says:

    Obama’s nuclear power push faces obstacle: Waste
    http://www.cnn.com/2010/POLITICS/02/16/obama.nuclear.power/

  14. prokaryote says:

    Goal – become carbon dioxide equivalent negative.
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Carbon_dioxide_equivalent

  15. Jeff Huggins says:

    Joe,

    Please — if you don’t mind — do a post today seeking thoughts and additions related to Thomas Friedman’s column today, “Global Weirding”. I like some things about it, and of course I like Friedman’s concern about the issue, but there are also a few things missing, and it would be nice to get Friedman’s attention about those.

    He mentions you in his piece, as I’m sure you’re aware by now.

    Cheers,

    Jeff

  16. John Redford says:

    Are the mirrors in the Ausra system actually curved? They don’t look curved in the picture. If they aren’t curved, then how is it that the collector is narrower than the mirrors? Wouldn’t the beam from a flat mirror be the same width as the mirror (except for the spreading due to the angular width of the sun)? Or is there a secondary mirror around the collector?

    If the mirrors are curved, then are they curved differently for all the different slats? The outer ones are much farther from the collector than the inner ones, and so would need a different focal distance. I think that would make the manufacturing much more complex and expensive.

    [JR: I should have mentioned this: "Ausra’s core technology, the Compact Linear Fresnel Reflector (CLFR) solar collector and steam generation system, uses modular flat reflectors to focus the sun's heat onto elevated receivers, which consist of a system of tubes through which water flows."]

  17. James Newberry says:

    A suggestion: The 100 mile by 100 mile desert area mentioned for solar CSP to supply all of the nation’s electricity (presently a rough estimate considering future development of night time storage of heat) can be reduced through appropriate planning. For example, if one quarter each of present load is taken by 1) End-use efficiency upgrades 2) Wind 3) Biomass cogeneration and facility retrofits, then solar would require something like 50 miles by 50 miles. This could be supplemented by distributed photovoltaics across the nation’s roofs and other facilities.

    By the way, I trust a (socialist, financed by French government) atomic fission outfit with US solar about as much as I trust an “investment banker” with “collateralized debt obligations” and public bailouts.

  18. Mekhong Kurt says:

    Interesting article (as was the one by Friedman another commenter mentioned).

    It’s true that flat panels can be angled so as to concentrate sunlight, at huge cost savings. I saw a video of some graduate students at MIT (I think) having a press conference in which they demonstrated one. Their concentrator was made quite cheaply; they used spaced mirrors, each 8 or so feet long, oval-shaped on a frame made of either plastic or metal piping. When they actually demonstrated it, one of the students took a longish board and stuck it into the focal point — and the board literally exploded in flame, the upper end falling away almost immediately. Sure got my attention — and I’m sorry I don’t have a link to the video to pass along.

    I’m also interested in wind turbines, geothermal, tidal/wave power. Nuclear reactors I have strong reservations about, chiefly their enormous construction costs, waste storage (even with a 4th-generation reactor), the possibility of a major accident or action by terrorists, and their lengthy construction time. *Especially* the storage dilemma — what are we going to do with it, short of sending it to crash into the Sun??? The arguments that we can safely store it for up to at least tens of thousands of years and that 4th-generation reactors will produce so little waste it’ll be easy to store leave me unmoved. While not every place is prone to larger earthquakes, they can happen just about anywhere when we’re talking such long time frames. And even just a little can be devastating if it’s released, for instance, into the water supply.

    I do hope we pursue development of alternate energy sources, except nuclear, with an aim of moving away from even natural gas and “clean coal, and I hope we do so on the quickest basis possible.

  19. John says:

    John Redford, good observation. Yes the mirrors are slightly curved; the steel backing has a very slight curve, which the glass mirrors take up (glass will bend elastically, a little). This simple approach distinguishes the Ausra system from other linear Fresnel systems which either use many more flat mirrror facets, or a secondary reflector at the target.

  20. John Redford says:

    re: John – mirrors are actually curved

    Thanks for the info! If the mirrors were in fact flat, then the maximum concentration factor would no more than the number of slats. In the picture and the diagram that JR referenced, there are only 10 slats, so the concentration would be only 10X. That’s not very high, and would not produce particularly high temperatures at the concentrator. Low temperatures mean low efficiency, which means more mirror area needed per kWH produced.

    In the picture the concentrator looks to be maybe 1/3 of the width of the mirror slats, so the mirrors have a focal length of somewhere around 3X the distance from the center mirror to the absorber. That means that the slats only need to be curved by a couple of millimeters in order to get some focussing. A 30X concentration is pretty good, and ought to be plenty for a plant that uses steam as a working fluid.

  21. Paul K2 says:

    John Redford, The concentration ratio is higher than you estimate. I base this on my own analysis, and not from first hand discussions with Ausra.

    First, The mirrors are stressed in the hoops to provide a slight curvature and hit the overhead collection system. There are five panels on each side of the collector tube bundle in the commercial plants, so if each panel was 5 feet, then this totals almost 50 feet of collector system width. From other pictures, the tube bundle appears to have 11 tubes, likely arranged with 5 staggered over 6.

    There is a reflector on top of the tube bundle that reflects light onto the tops of the tubes; my guess is the top reflector is designed to pick up the partially concentrated light from each panel, then concentratesthe light to a bundle roughly 1.5 feet wide. Based on this, I estimate the concentration ratio around 30-35, and could be higher when the sun is almost directly overhead. The Ausra CLFRs can hit approximately 550 deg F, consistent with this collection ratio.

    The problem with Fresnel arrays occurs in the early morning and late afternoon. The collection aperture (the area perpendicular to the incoming rays) drops from 4-5 feet to less than half that. So this system will have lower collection ratios at those times of the day.

    Ausra clearly designed these DSG (direct steam generator) collectors as the lowest cost generators of high pressure steam (approx. 1000 psi). I understand that Ausra has efforts underway to look at a higher ratio design that will hit higher temperatures.

  22. Paul K2 says:

    John Redford… sorry. I wrote my response earlier, and just saw your latest. We are in agreement that the concentration ratio is roughly 30 or slightly higher.

  23. John Redford says:

    Re: Paul K2 – “The problem with Fresnel arrays occurs in the early morning and late afternoon.”

    I take it that this is because the arrays face south (in the northern hemisphere), and the sun at those times is in the far east or west. The effective collection area drops by the cosine of the angle away from south, and becomes zero when the sun is at the horizon.

    Do power tower systems suffer from this same effect? If not, how much more energy can they collect per square kilometer than linear arrays? The eSolar system, for example, also uses cheap mirrors, but focuses on a point on a tower instead of a line. It should also get higher temperatures and therefore higher efficiency. Did Areva buy the wrong company?