CSP Today Report Reveals True Cost Drivers of Parabolic Trough Systems

While solar thermal plant costs are expected to “decline steadily as plants get bigger”, pinpointing how costs can otherwise be reduced remains a challenge, due to the presence of many variables.

CSP Today’s latest report, ‘CSP Parabolic Trough Report – Cost & Performance’, provides indispensable lessons on how to navigate this complicated landscape.

According to the report, a staggering 40-45% of the overall lifetime cost of the plant is attributable to capital cost – land acquisition, construction and commissioning. Of the total investment cost, the report highlights solar field and operation and maintenance (O&M) as being most expensive.

The burning question is how, and where, to make savings. Common belief dictates that increasing plant size would automatically reduce component costs. But the report challenges this theory, saying that while enlarging solar fields may lower the Levelized Cost of Electricity (LCOE), it also entails greater thermal losses.

The report’s author notes this would require increased pumping “leading to higher electricity consumption, reducing the net power output”. Instead, the report advises the industry to focus on the reduction of component prices such as mirrors, absorbers, hydraulic actuators, HTF piping and in particular, collectors.

Another complication with regard to cost forecasting is the dependence of concentrated solar power on raw materials such as steel, aluminum, molten salts and concrete. Fluctuating prices have a direct influence on LCOE.

The report, which provides a comprehensive breakdown of costs and variables, stresses that the material chosen therefore affects the type of technology implemented, which in turn affects salvage value. Certain components (for example, those using extruded aluminium) can make recycling a “profitable business upon decommissioning”.

The report’s authors emphasize the potential of investment into research and development to create technologies capable of reducing O&M and LCOE costs. Active research topics include Direct Steam Generation, Compressed Gas HTF, Advanced Storage Systems and Large Aperture Troughs.

Read more here.

Article by Francesca Boothby, appearing courtesy CSP Today.

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