Solar thermal electricity could generate 12 percent of world’s energy by 2050 says report

CSIRO solar tower with mirror array.

These mirrors at CSIRO in Newcastle can focus the sun to create superheated steam. That is the same pressure and temperature of steam that a coal fired power plant creates. Amazing.

A major report released last week has predicted solar thermal electricity (STE) has the potential to power six percent of the world’s energy by 2030 and 12 percent by 2050. The scenario is based on the most positive outcome where global capacity of STE (aka concentrating solar power) reaches 1,600 GW by the middle of the century.

Commissioned by Greenpeace, SolarPACES and ESTELA (the European Solar Thermal Electricity Association) the fourth edition of the Solar Thermal Electricity Global Outlook 2016, is perhaps the most vibrant and positive yet.

“We are delighted to see STE on a solid growth pathway and poised to establish itself as a third big player in the new ‘sustainable power generation industry,’ the report stated. “With the potential for cost curves to decline significantly, STE has the potential to be economically viable in sunny regions across the world.”

STE technology uses giant mirrors that track the sun during the day and focus the energy on to a receiving station known as a heliostat. The energy can be stored as heat in conjunction with a storage medium. The technology has reduced considerably in cost however the potential for a further decline comes with a caveat according to the study.

As with all emerging technologies, the political will to back new STE projects is crucial.

“Just as with any other energy technology, costs come down along a solid deployment programme based on a political decision to establish a technology. Such a political decision leads to a positive investment climate with preferential financing conditions and/or tax and investment incentives. This will also create the conditions for progressively bringing to market innovative solutions that will, in turn, further reduce costs and increase business opportunities beyond the electricity sector in countries that decide to launch such programmes.”

Calling for further government financial incentives and backing, the report said a long term outlook was needed to fully explore the potential of the technology.

Household solar storage has garnered most headlines in the past few weeks with the rollout in Australia of the much-awaited Powerwall battery. However the advantage of STE is the ability to be integrated with solar storage at a large-scale level and the study has underlined Australia’s major potential.

“STE is a carbon-free source of electricity that is best suited to areas in the world with strong irradiation: Southern Europe, Northern Africa and the Middle East, South Africa, parts of India, China, Southern USA and Australia.”

Will solar thermal electricity take off in Australia? Do we have the political will — both federal and state — to be an STE superpower? What are your thoughts?

Comments

  1. Political will at state and even city level is a lot more important than most of us realise around subjects like this. And there’s a strong case to be made for concentrating on cities in the battle against climate change. Especially so in Australia, where more than two thirds of us live in just 5 cities. Sustainability goals tend be much more upbeat at state and city level too. Case in point, Adelaide. Even Melbourne has some ambitious carbon reduction goals. So despite our crappy federal government policies, the answer is probably yes. Federal help would of course be wonderful in making it all happen, but it’s not essential.

    • Good points Matt. Certainly state and local governments have had tp come to the fore due to the lack of leadership at federal level. I’d also like to throw in a hat tip for councils in regional areas (including cities and rural areas) where a lot of work is being done in renewables/climate change mitigation/off grid. You may well be right, the initiative for alternative technologies may come from state or local level.

      Thanks for the feedback

      Rich

  2. The original report lacks credibility.

    Look who wrote the report: Greenpeace, SolarPACES and ESTELA.

    The first is a green group NGO. The other two are variously involved in the promotion of solar technology.

    Now, I want to specifically point out that I’m not knocking solar technology or its applications. Quite the contrary – it seems to be a wonderful technology that could really help humanity as a whole.

    But you simply cannot trust two of these organisations – SolarP & Estela – (and I’m not implying they are dodgy in any way) simply on the grounds that they are both involved in the promotion and marketing of solar technology. There is an obvious conflict of interest.

    And as for the NGO? This organisation is a notorious liar. Take for example, this campaign – http://www.takeanotherlook.gp/what-is-the-issue/ in which GP alleges that the coal mining industry is destroying the Great Barrier Reef.

    The GBR has indeed lost half of its coral. It is indeed under threat. But it is not under threat from coal (via shipping of the coal). It is under threat from the reproductive habits of the Crown of Thorns Starfish (a notorious coral-eater) that is reproducing out of control because farmers on the QLD coast use too much / do not properly control their fertiliser, which runs-off into the sea, causes a massive boom in plankton volumes which enables the CoTs plankton to survive in massive numbers (when they would otherwise die in massive numbers). Result – lots of CoTs going yum-yum-yum chomp-chomp-chomp on the GBR. FACT – GRBR destruction is 40% caused by COTS, 50% caused by cyclones and 10% by coral bleaching (sunlight). You can look up the academic paper for yourself here – http://www.pnas.org/content/109/44/17995.full.pdf

    Coal-carrying shipping however is a well-recognised and managed risk. There are approximately >9,000 shipping movements each year through the GBR. Yes, there are the occasional groundings but these are rare and are quickly contained. And every year the technology and response management procedures get better.

    There is no way that the coal industry poses anywhere near as great a threat to the GBR as does the starfish.

    BUT – that doesn’t fit too well with the narratives of Greenpeace and other such groups (there’s the whole myth that genetically modified crops are somehow dangerous) so Greenpeace simply chooses to lie about it to further its political agenda.

    Always be sceptical of anything that Greenpeace says. Greenpeace has next to no authority or credibility in my eyes.

    Show me a report from a credible organisation, like the CSIRO, or a widely-published peer-reviewed study.

  3. Erik Christiansen says

    Matt’s focus on cities is well aimed, not just because that’s where the energy consumption (and money, private, corporate, and government) is, but local CST/STE will reduce transmission losses. Hey, in some cities (Delhi perhaps?), where the city centre is decaying, the CST could be ideally located – in the middle of the city! In such cases, some of the waste heat may be usable.

    But there’s another reason for aiming CST at cities: “The assessment by UN-Habitat said that the world’s cities were responsible for about 70% of [greenhouse gas] emissions, yet only occupied 2% of the planet’s land cover.”
    http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/science-environment-12881779

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