Time for more Concentrated Solar Power Plants?

CSP, renewables, parabolic system

Concentrated Solar Power (CSP) a cost-effective ingredient for powering the grid

The agreement of the G7, June 2015, involves a transformation of electricity generation towards renewables and nuclear by 2050.

Concentrated Solar Power is one of the answers for this transformation and get rid of fossil fuel by the end of the century.

Solar Power

CSP involves power generation using solar energy. The sun’s rays are reflected off an array of concentrators on to either a network of small tubes running across the face of the mirrors or a large central tower, in which water is turned into steam to drive conventional turbines for generating electricity.

Parabolic trough concentrating collectors, power tower/heliostat configurations, and parabolic dish collectors are used in CSP systems.

13 GW in 2015

Large-scale commercial implementation of CSP has been done in California, USA. CSP generation global capacity is expected to reach 13 GW in 2015, indicating that solar CSP is moving to the forefront of renewable energy technologies.


CSP implementation involves high costs when compared with other conventional sources and requires government support in the form of subsidies and incentives for making it a profitable proposition for electricity generation. A 100 MW solar power plant in Spain, with 9 H storage, means aan investment of 400 million Euros, 1000 jobs during construction and 100 jobs during the 25 years of operation.

This is how it works

HCSP produces electricity by converting solar energy into high temperature heat using diverse mirror configurations. The heat is then used to produce electricity through a conventional generator system using turbine.

There are four major CSP systems:

  1. Parabolic Trough Systems
    Sun Power, CSP, renewables, climate change

    Linear Concentrator Power Plant Using Parabolic Trough Collectors

    A parabolic trough system consists of trough-shaped mirror reflectors to concentrate solar radiation on to receiver tubes containing thermal transfer fluid which is heated to produce steam. This is one of the most developed, economically viable and widely accepted CSP technologies.

  2. Power tower systems/Central receiver systems
    A power tower system employs an array of large individually tracking plain mirrors (heliostats) to concentrate solar radiation on to a central receiver on top of a tower to produce steam for electricity generation.
  3. Parabolic dish systems
    Parabolic dish systems are comparatively smaller units consisting of a dish-shaped concentrator that reflects solar radiation onto a receiver mounted at the focal point which heats thermal fluid for power generation. This technology has the advantage of functioning as stand-alone systems and can provide decentralized power.
  4. Linear fresnel reflector systems
    A linear fresnel reflector system uses an array of flat or slightly curved reflectors which reflect solar rays and concentrate them on elevated inverted linear absorber tube for heating the fluids and converting solar energy to electricity.

Energy storage

One big advantage of these parabolic trough systems is that the energy can be stored and used later to keep making electricity when the sun is not shining.

Connection with the grid

The development of grid-infrastructures is important for the wide-spread implementation of CSP. This would enable trade of electricity produced from CSP between adjacent countries.

The cost involved in transmitting electricity includes investment costs related to setting up of transmission lines and the cost incurred due to electricity losses during transmission.

With the installation of a EU-MENA HVDC grid it will be possible to provide a share of the Northern European electricity demand.

Systems need water

A CSP generating facility can be expected to consume approximately 2.3 – 2.6 million m3 of water, per year for a 280 MW capacity plant. CSP plants require continual water supply for:

  • steam generation
  • cooling
  • cleaning solar mirrors

Commercial Plants World Wide

  • Algeria: 140 – 150 MW ISCC plant with 25 MW solar capacity
  • Abu Dhabi: 250 MW Fresnel and parabolic trough system
  • Australia: 400 MW Power tower systems/Central receiver system
    Australia aims to build four utility-scale solar projects, together 1 gigawatt by 2020, with an interim 2015 target of 400 megawatts (MW). Half the power will come from solar-thermal installations, and half from photovoltaics.
  • Egypt: 150 MW ISCC plant with 20 MW solar capacity trough system
  • India: ISCC plant with 53 MW solar capacity trough system
  • Iran: 450 MW ISCC plant with 10 MW solar capacity trough system
  • Italy: 40 MW ISCC plant with 10 MW solar capacity trough system
  • Kuwait: 100 MW parabolic trough system
  • Mexico: 290 MW ISCC with 40 MW solar capacity trough system
  • Morocco: 220 MW ISCC plant with 30 MW solar capacity
  • Spain: over 500 MW solar capacity using steam cycle (12 x 50 MW trough system)
    The use of salt allows this plant to operate at higher temperatures than plants that use traditional parabolic trough technology. This in turn generates hotter pressurized steam to drive the turbine, increasing the plant’s efficiency.
    Storing the hot salt allows electricity generation to continue for as long as 15 hours, even when there is no sunshine — a significant advance in solar generating capability.
  • Spain: 4 x 10-50 MW solar tower plants with solar-only system cycle
  • USA: 64 MW solar capacity steam-cycle plant in Nevada
  • USA: 500 MW solar capacity dish park in California
    The drought in California is already forcing solar thermal power plant developers to use alternative cooling approaches to reduce water consumption. This will both raise costs and decrease electricity production, especially in the summer months when demand for electricity is high. Several research groups across the country are developing ways to reduce those costs and avoid reductions in power output.

Waste heat for fresh water

The drawbacks are that solar thermal plants generate large amounts of waste heat which can be used to clean waste water into fresh water.

Read the pros and cons of CSP

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