Morocco (160 MW), South Africa (150 MW) and the United States (110 MW) all brought new CSP facilities online in 2015, raising total global capacity by about 10% to nearly 4.8 GW.
The new facilities represent a mix of parabolic trough and tower technologies, and all incorporate thermal energy storage (TES).
By year’s end, additional CSP capacity was under construction in Morocco (350 MW), South Africa (200 MW), Israel (121 MW), Chile (110 MW), Saudi Arabia (100 MW), China (50 MW) and India (25 MW), reflecting a shift from traditional markets (Spain and the United States) to developing regions with high direct normal irradiation (DNI) levels.
Industrial capacity continued to expand in developing regions, supported in part by local content requirements associated with CSP procurement programmes. Large facilities (greater than 100MW) are increasingly the norm, as is the incorporation of TES and dry cooling technologies. CSP bid prices in national
tenders continued to decline, most notably in South Africa and Morocco. Cost reduction and increased thermal eiciency were key areas of focus in several research and development (R&D) programmes around the world.
2015 was a year of challenges and changes for concentrating solar power (CSP), also known as solar thermal electricity (STE).
Capacity growth in the CSP market decelerated somewhat in 2015. Global operating capacity increased by 420 MW to reach nearly 4.8 GW at year’s end. Nonetheless, a wave of new projects was under construction as of early 2016, and several new plants are expected to enter operation in 2017.
The year was a turning point in market expansion beyond Spain and the United States, which account for nearly 90% of installed CSP capacity.
By year-end, facilities were under construction in Australia, Chile, China, India, Israel, Mexico, Saudi Arabia and South Africa.
Morocco and South Africa surpassed the United States in capacity added, with Morocco becoming the first developing country to top the global CSP market.
Whereas early commercial CSP development focused entirely on parabolic trough technology, markets now are balanced fairly evenly between parabolic trough and tower technologies.
Fresnel and parabolic dish technologies have become largely overshadowed. For the first time, all of the facilities added in 2015 (as well as facilities added in early 2016) incorporated thermal energy storage (TES) capacity, a feature now seen as central to maintaining the competitiveness of CSP through the flexibility of dispatchability.
Morocco was highly active and brought the 160 MW Noor I plant online. Noor I forms part of the 500 MW multi-stage Noor-Ouarzazate CSP complex, which is expected to be fully operational by 2018.
South Africa brought its first commercial CSP capacity online in 2015 with the 100 MW KaXu Solar One facility and the 50 MW Bokpoort facility.
A further 50 MW was added in early 2016 when the Khi Solar One facility came online, bringing South Africa’s total capacity to 200 MW; an additional 200 MW also was under construction.
Grid access in areas of high insolation has emerged as a key challenge for South African CSP projects, many of which are being planned in regions with constrained transmission networks.
The United States followed, adding the 110 MW Crescent Dunes facility to end the year with more than 1.7 GW in operation.
This followed a record year in the country in 2014, during which almost 0.8 GW was brought online.
As of early 2016, no new CSP capacity was under construction in the United States. Permitting challenges, a surging solar PV sector and low natural gas prices have resulted in indefinite delays to several large CSP projects.
Spain remains the global leader in existing CSP capacity, with 2.3 GW at year’s end. However, no capacity came online in 2015, and, as of early 2016, no new CSP facilities were under construction or being planned or developed in the country.
While Noor I in Morocco was the highlight for the North African market, developments also were under way in other countries in the region. For example, in early 2016, Egypt announced 14 prequalified bidders (including numerous MENA based developers) for a 50 MW facility.
In Algeria, where the government announced plans in 2015 to develop 2 GW of CSP by 2030, a number of new projects were in the development stage.
In the Middle East, construction started on Israel’s 121 MW Ashalim Plot B facility. Commercial operation is expected in 2017, and an additional 110 MW phase is expected to come online in 2018.
In Saudi Arabia, Integrated Solar Combined Cycle (ISCC) facilities under construction in Duba and Waad Al Shamaal will incorporate 50 MW each of CSP technology when they enter operation in 2017 and 2018, respectively.
As domestic energy demand rises in Saudi Arabia, CSP is considered a strategically important technology for maintaining the country’s status as a fossil fuel exporter.
China’s proposed CSP target of 5–10 GW by 2020 came amidst a flurry of development activity. Construction at the 50 MW Qinghai Delingha facility commenced in late 2015.
The facility, which will mark the country’s first commercial CSP plant, is expected to come online in 2017. Additional facilities totalling several hundred megawatts are in various stages of construction, although timelines for completion remain unclear.
Elsewhere in Asia, India’s 25 MW Gujarat Solar One facility entered construction after significant permitting delays.
In Latin America, construction continued on Chile’s 110 MW Atacama 1 plant. Chile saw a notable milestone for CSP when a hybrid CSP/PV facility (incorporating 100 MW) won a baseload tender that also was open to combined-cycle gas technology.
CSP continued its push into developing markets with high DNI levels and specific strategic and/or economic alignment with the benefits of CSP technology. In this respect, CSP is receiving increased policy support in countries with limited oil and gas reserves, constrained power networks, or strong industrialisation and job creation agendas, including South Africa, Morocco and China.
It was a watershed year for industry as companies adapted to the shift of CSP markets. The continued stagnation of the Spanish market, along with a long predicted slowdown in the United States, resulted in increased capacity building in new focus markets.
Established CSP players created new partnerships and invested in assets in new markets, while local industrial activity emerged in South Africa, the MENA region and China.
Recognising CSP’s potential for local manufacturing, engineering and skills development, many countries – including Morocco, Saudi Arabia, South Africa and the United Arab Emirates –continued to promote or enforce local content requirements in their CSP programmes during 2015.
Abengoa, the industry’s largest developer and builder, faced bankruptcy proceedings before reaching an agreement with its creditors and avoiding liquidation in early 2016. The company’s rising debt was partially a result of Spanish energy reforms enacted in 2013, which reduced feed-in tariffs for CSP facilities. As of early 2016, the company was expected to dispose of equity in several CSP facilities as it restructured its operations over the year.
Nonetheless, Abengoa and Saudia Arabia’s ACWA Power led the market in ownership of projects that either commenced operations or were under construction during 2015.
As a developer, owner and operator, ACWA continued to make strong inroads into the global CSP market, most notably through projects in South Africa and Morocco.
Other top companies in 2015, including those engaged in construction, operation and/or manufacturing, were Rioglass Solar (Belgium); Acciona, ACS Cobra, Sener and TSK (all Spain); and Brightsource, GE and Solar Reserve (all United States).
Leading manufacturer Schott Solar (Germany) sold its CSP receiver business to Rioglass Solar, the world’s largest manufacturer of CSP mirrors with plants in Chile, Israel, South Africa, Spain and the United States.38 Rioglass Solar previously purchased the CSP receiver business of Siemens (Germany)
GE acquired the power business of Alstom (France) – including the company’s CSP business – towards the end of 2015.
Developers continued to focus on larger plants, with many facilities exceeding 100 MW in size. South Africa increased the size limit of CSP plants under its Independent Power Producer Procurement programme from 100 MW to 150 MW.
These larger plants are being developed increasingly in water-scarce regions, so most new facilities are making use of dry cooling technology to reduce water consumption as well as environmental impact.
Almost all new CSP plants are being developed with TES systems, and global storage capacity is on the rise. The US Crescent Dunes facility represented a major step forward in this regard: with 10 hours of storage, the plant is capable of generating power at any time of day or night for half of the year.
In Morocco, the storage capacity planned for the Noor II facility, currently under
construction, was increased from three to seven hours.
Faced by competition from solar PV due to its rapidly declining prices, the CSP industry has focused increasingly on maximising value through TES systems that provide dispatchable power.
Research conducted by the US National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL) on California power markets found that a large fraction of the value of CSP operating with TES appears to be derived from its ability to provide firm system capacity; this is especially the case where the penetration of variable renewables is high, or where there is a shortage of baseload capacity.
Under South Africa’s competitive bidding process, decreasing price caps coupled with strong competition resulted in a reduction of CSP bid prices by nearly 40% from round one (in late 2011) to round three (in late 2013) of the procurement process.
This trend was expected to continue with the announcement of new preferred bidders, originally scheduled for early 2016.
In Morocco, the next phases of the Noor Ouarzazate CSP complex will operate at significantly lower tariffs than other operational facilities in the region as a result of cheaper debt and learnings from the first phase.
A shift to cheaper component suppliers and the establishment of partnerships between leading CSP technology companies and Chinese counterparts also are
helping to reduce costs.
R&D in the CSP sector is being driven by both private and public entities, often through partnerships between leading CSP firms or between private groups and government programmes.
Improvements and cost reductions in TES continue to be strong focus areas of these activities. Related research programmes, some of which focused on novel storage media such as sand and concrete, were under way during 2015 in several countries, including Italy, the United States and the United Arab Emirates.
R&D programmes backed by the United States and the United Arab Emirates concentrated on improving CSP efficiency through the application of higher temperature processes, which allow the more efficient transfer of heat and conversion of energy.
Related research in 2015 was focused largely on the development of materials capable of housing high-temperature processes.
Other research was directed towards incremental cost reductions in CSP components, including heliostats and mirrors; the reduction of water usage in both steam/power generation and mirror cleaning; and the reduction of land requirements for CSP systems.