The night must also be decarbonized, by David Trebolle, Secretary General of Protermosolar

4 de enero de 2023

«In Spain, there are more than 20 operational process heat concentrated solar power projects, which will double by 2023, thanks to the paybacks that we currently have for 2-3 years.»

David Trebolle, general secretary of Protermosolar, the Spanish Association for the Promotion of the Thermosolar Industry, says so in an article that we have published in our 2022 Yearbook and that we bring here today. Yes: amortizations of between two and three years. The hour of the solar thermal seems to have already sounded. For industrial applications, at least. Trebolle talks about this, and about its nocturnal vocation as a source of electricity, and its condition as a manageable renewable, and about the auction, and many other things in the lines that follow. One of those grandstands not to be missed.

2022 ends with the twenty-seventh climate summit (CoP 27), in Egypt. Under a worrying vision and certainty, since very possibly if the current rate of greenhouse gas emissions is maintained, an average temperature increase of 1.5 degrees will be reached in the next decade. In Spain, considering the contribution of greenhouse gas emissions by sector, transport continues to be the most emitting, with 27.7%, followed by industry (21.4%), agriculture and livestock (14, 1%), electricity generation (10.3%), fuel consumption in the residential, commercial and institutional sectors (8.2%), and waste (5.1%).

Concentrated Solar Power (CSP) technology must play a determining role in Spain in two of them: the decarbonisation of electricity generation and the heat input in industry, which together represent 31.7% of total emissions. As far as electricity generation is concerned, 2022 should be a year of reflection for solar thermal technology. After many years, last October an auction was convened and held for the assignment of a 20-year electricity purchase contract, but, unfortunately, it has been deserted and no CSP megawatt has been assigned.

It is worth noting the interest and level of participation generated by the call for the auction that mobilized more than seven hundred megawatts (700 MW) in the solar thermal sector. However, since there is no visibility on the date on which to opt for the connection point, together with the risk of execution of the guarantee presented in the auction for reasons beyond the control of each company, it has meant that at least 500 of the 700 MW did not finally put up for auction.

The challenge facing the next auction calls must consider two fundamental aspects: incorporating a new auction design that allows better adjusting the auction offers to the real costs of the technology and the consideration of backup technologies with renewable, synchronous and nocturnal area.

From Protermosolar we consider that the key factors to consider in a solar thermal auction design are:
(1) Consideration of inflation, due to the tensions in the markets for raw materials and supplies, as well as the increasing rise in interest rates

(2) greater hybridization with photovoltaic technology, which allows maximizing production both during the day and at night, achieving capacity factors with an annual production of more than 4,000 equivalent hours;

(3) a new market exposure scheme, which continues to allow production at marginal hours without entailing an overprice in the offers. Incentivizing an exclusive auction for night sections, since the electrical system in the medium term faces the challenge of decarbonization at night;

(4) a number of years of the regulatory scheme that accompanies the useful life of this type of power plants, greater than 20 years.
We must not forget that solar thermal technology with thermal storage is the only non-CO2-emitting renewable that can really reduce dependence on natural gas for night-time electricity generation, thanks to its storage capacity and synchronous condition, surpassing technical and economic competitiveness to photovoltaics with batteries in comparable cases.

Due to these attributes, the value of solar thermal technology should not be measured exclusively by the cost of the energy produced, since its role, thanks to storage and the ability to reduce discharges, is essential for the system to achieve high rates of renewable penetration. intermittent, helping to reduce our heavy dependence on gas and combined cycles.

Hence, the review of the new National Integrated Energy and Climate Plan, scheduled for the year 2023, must continue to consider the determining role that solar thermal technology is called upon to play in the field of energy transition of renewable energies with support in the electrical system.

As far as industry is concerned, 74% of its demanded energy is in the form of heat. According to the International Energy Agency, the decarbonization of the industrial sector presents one of the greatest challenges among all sectors, since 90% of that necessary heat is generated through the burning of fossil fuels, using coal (45%) , natural gas (30%) and oil derivatives (15%).

Thus, in Spain, there are more than 20 operational process heat solar thermal projects, which will double in 2023, thanks to the paybacks that we currently have for 2-3 years.

An example of these projects is the one that the Heineken brewery in Seville will launch together with Engie and Azteq, with a 20-year PPA, which will allow the decarbonization of 60% of the factory’s gas demand.

Let us not forget that the climate objectives do not include tensions in the markets or any other conjunctural factor.

The solution must start today: it is necessary to decarbonize industrial processes and overnight in the electricity sector.