Which is Better – Wind Energy or Concentrated Solar Power?

A reader asks for my viewpoint on wind energy and concentrated solar power (CSP). She writes: Hello! I have been doing a lot of research on CSP and wind power. I want to know your opinion on which is better and why. Thank you.

It’s hard to answer this question definitively in either direction, so let me present some pros and cons.

Wind is extremely inexpensive; we’re signing wind deals at $0.02/kWh. But:

It’s variable, and it’s available most when we need it the least (in the middle of the night). This means that we’ll eventually need energy storage if we’re going to integrate it much further into our grid mix (it’s currently a bit over 4%).

It takes up huge amounts of space, though farmers, i.e., growers of food animals and vegetables, can use most of their land in the way they always have.

Most people consider it ugly, and it’s a danger to birds and bats.

It’s often sited far from population centers, necessitating expensive, and unattractive transmission lines.

CSP, aka solar thermal (pictured above), on the other hand, is currently far more expensive. However, because the technology is nowhere near the same level of maturity as wind (or solar PV), it’s quite likely that the costs will come way down over time, if we don’t abandon it. CSP also faces many of the same problems discussed above: it’s variable, and it’s normally sited far from our cities. It also requires significant amounts of water, which are generally not available at the best sites for CSP , i.e., the deserts.  But because the energy from CSP is heat, and heat energy can be stored far less expensively than electricity, CSP has an inherent advantage in that respect.

Another issue: wind lends itself to small and mid-sized projects and well as the utility scale wind farms we see around us; mid-sized wind can be used my schools, military bases, remote communities, etc.  The same cannot be said for CSP, where plants, to be cost-effective, need to be large.

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