The Blythe Shift: Photovoltaics Over Concentrated Solar
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Written by Jonah Heller. Follow Jonah on Twitter @greenjonah
The term renewable energy encompasses a great number of different technologies, from geothermal to tidal energy, hydroelectric power, biofuels, wind, and many more. But the technology which stands out in the minds of most people is solar power, and to many this means either one of two things: rooftop panels, or large solar projects collecting energy off the side of a highway somewhere. However, solar photovoltaic panels (PV for short) are by no means the only way to harness renewable energy from the sun. In fact, 70 percent of new solar developments currently under construction utilize a technology called Concentrated Solar Power, or CSP, this correlates to about 17.54 gigawatts of future renewable energy worldwide.
The basic science behind CSP is fairly simple.
Large mirrors or lenses are used to concentrate sunlight onto a small area, which drives a heat engine (typically steam turbine) that is connected to an electrical power generator. CSP is a clean and flexible technology which unlike PV, has the capacity to store heat for later conversion into electricity, either after sundown or when clouds block the sun. Until recently CSP had been widely regarded as one of the most cost effective techniques for harnessing the sun's energy. However, process innovation, manufacturing improvements, and the decreasing cost of materials has begun to tip the scales in favor of photovoltaics.
In a recent report by private consulting firm Ernst and Young, the case was made that Solar PV installations would become cost competitive with energy from fossil fuels (without government subsidy) within the next ten years. With new technologies emerging on what seems to be a daily basis, some estimate the day where PV competes with oil on cost alone, could come even sooner. In July of this year First Solar (Nasdaq:FSLR) broke barriers by producing a cadmium telluride solar cell with a 17.3 percent efficiency. HSBC calculates that the cost of solar cells (the key component in panels) has fallen by about 70 percent since Sept 2008. General Electric
(NYSE:GE) has said that their new PV Cells should be able to generate power at $150 per megawatt-hour by 2013, similar to the cost of conventional energy. Howard Johns, Chair of the Solar Trade Association (STA) recently said, “We are on the cusp of a global solar revolution”, and if the current rapid progression of solar technology keeps up, he could be right.
The recent shift in technology from Concentrated Solar Power to Photovoltaics at the Blythe Solar Project is a sure sign of the progress that PV has made. Solar Millennium, developer of the 1000-megawatt facility currently under construction in Southern California is so convinced of the virtues of PV, that it was willing to forfeit a $2.1 billion loan guarantee from the U.S. Department of Energy. Project executives estimate that once complete, a CSP project would cost about $5.79 per watt, while PV could be as low as $3.40 per watt, therefore a switch was made. When asked about the drastic change Solar Millennium CEO Christoph Wolff said, “Our long-term strategy remains unchanged; we see solid demand for CSP in the world's growth markets.” Later he would go on to say that “the advantages of CSP as a grid-stabilizing renewable energy source with storage capabilities are obvious and highly valued by utilities.” So it would seem that given the advantages of both PV and CSP, the use of hybrid plants combining the two technologies would increase.
While the future of large-scale solar energy projects (both PV and CSP) appears to be bright, the economics of residential solar is considerably less sunny. The demand for residential PV continues to increase, but mounting cutbacks of federal tax credits and municipal rebates make it more difficult for the average homeowner to afford solar panels. At current levels the typical incentive is about 30 percent, which means homeowners will have to wait around 13 to 15 years to recoup their entire cost. As incentives continue to decrease, homes with solar panels installed via lease agreement will also be adversely affected. Fortunately there are many more cost effective and energy efficient improvements for homeowners to make before going solar.
Awesense launches digital clean energy marketplace
Awesense has launched what it claims is the only energy-focused repository of solutions built to drive the industry's decarbonization agenda.
The Awesense Marketplace aims to provide a common framework for companies to collaborate towards the future of clean energy and digital transformation, uniting applications, solutions and algorithms to solve energy and grid challenges.
Solutions listed on the marketplace cover a range of cases, and launch companies include Doosan GridTech, Kitu Systems, vadiMAP, LO3 Energy, ENGIN, Utilidata, Clir Renewables, ChargeLab, SensorLink, Exeri, Easy SmartGrid, and Athena Power.
“We are welcoming a new era in the decarbonization of energy systems,” said Mischa Steiner, CEO of Awesense. “The goal of achieving a clean energy future requires collaboration amongst key industry players in the utilities and energy sectors. Sharing resources through the Marketplace means that our customers and partners have a truly seamless approach as we work towards our common goal - ultimately, decarbonizing the world’s energy system.”
Utilities, consulting companies, and other organizations struggle to develop solutions that can be scaled across many jurisdictions due to complex data integration and the lack of a standard, open data model. Using the solutions offered throughout the Marketplace, organizations can rapidly accelerate their transition to a decentralized, decarbonized future and develop solutions that are scalable across industry. The platform will open up new revenue streams in areas such as:
Distributed energy resource integration and control
Electric vehicle charging
Demand response and smart-home management
Intelligent asset management
Advanced distribution system management
The new marketplace builds on Awesense's Digital Energy Platform, a digital twin based energy analytics platform that allows utilities to scale at the same pace as the rapidly changing technology landscape of the energy grid.
Together, the Open Energy Data Model and the Awesense Marketplace removes hurdles around data mapping and transformation, expedites data preparation and refining, and provides a common framework for companies to collaborate.
“The energy-specific data model allows utilities, technology companies, consulting firms, and other vendors to build solutions that can be easily integrated by other energy companies, to make a real impact on the industry as a whole, and develop new revenue streams for their organizations” said Steiner. “We’re looking forward to seeing the Awesense Marketplace grow as more partners committed to energy decarbonization join us.”
There are no simple solutions to putting the world on a sustainable path to net-zero emissions, according to the IEA. Reducing global CO2 emissions will require "a broad range of different technologies working across all sectors of the economy in various combinations and applications." it notes.
Renewable Energy Hub of South Australia formed
Amp Power Australia has established the Renewable Energy Hub of South Australia, a strategic portfolio of large scale integrated Solar PV, Wind and Battery Energy Storage assets located in South Australia. The hub also includes the siting of the Spencer Gulf Hydrogen Energy Ecoplex, forming part of the South Australian Government's Hydrogen Action Plan.
The portfolio, acquired from EPS, includes three large Solar PV projects totalling over 1.3 GW of generation, located at Robertstown (636 MW), Bungama (336MW) and Yoorndoo Ilga (388MW) with a total BESS capacity of up to 540MW across the portfolio.
Amp's expansion in Australia will include the implementation of Amp X, a proprietary digital energy platform 100% owned by Amp, which provides a diverse portfolio of disruptive and interoperable grid edge solutions, and includes a smart transformer, which enables real-time autonomous management and optimised dispatch of all forms of distributed generation and loads across the grid.
Palmetto recently opened its marketplace in Arizona, and is now serving 20 states across the country, claiming its proprietary technology, marketplace business model, and consumer mobile application "are all designed to democratize access to clean energy".