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Concentrating Solar Power Market to Shrink 18%, but Can Beat mc-Si on Cost in 2020

Lux Research

CSP has been hit hard by the crash of photovoltaic module prices, but can bounce back and cut levelized cost of electricity by up to 33%, Lux Research says.

BOSTON, MA – February 25, 2013 – The opening of the Ivanpah concentrating solar power (CSP) plant has brought renewed interest in the technology, which produces electricity by focusing the sun's rays to produce intense heat. However, the crash of photovoltaic (PV) module prices will cause the CSP market to decline from 2.45 GW in 2013 to 2.0 GW in 2018. Nonetheless, the technology has the potential to bounce back and beat multicrystalline silicon (mc-Si) in levelized cost of electricity (LCOE), according to Lux Research.

“CSP has fallen by the wayside of the solar industry after attracting huge amounts of government and investor money in 2010 and 2011. But the industry can still bring the technology back to the forefront for utility-scale, stand-alone power applications,” said Ed Cahill, Lux Research Associate and the lead author of the report titled, “Turning Up the Heat on Advanced Concentrating Solar Components.”

“Advanced components and thermal energy storage that enable higher operating temperatures could allow CSP to beat PV systems on LCOE by 6% to 33% in some of the sunniest areas,” he added.                                    

Lux Research analysts evaluated CSP technologies and economics in order to discover optimal models. Among their findings:

  • Thermal energy storage (TES) are among the top targets for cost reduction. Today's CSP system costs are 37% to 60% higher than mc-Si without TES – and 300% to 600% higher with 14 hours of TES. Storage is among the largest portions of the system cost stack, and will be a primary target for advanced system components.

  • Advanced power towers will win for large projects. Supercritical steam systems are the most likely to come to fruition by 2020. The next step for power towers will likely be toward Air Brayton and supercritical CO2 systems that can beat mc-Si's LCOE by 31% and 33%, respectively.

  • Fresnel reflector systems are best for small projects. Linear Fresnel reflectors with molten salt heat transfer fluid can undercut mc-Si's LCOE by 6% and have the most potential to dominate smaller CSP projects and alternative applications like integrated solar combined cycle (ISCC), industrial heat, enhanced oil recovery (EOR) and water purification applications.

The report, titled “Turning Up the Heat on Advanced Concentrating Solar Components,” is part of the Lux Research Solar Intelligence service.