by Andrew Walden
All across the US and Europe, Concentrating Solar Power (CSP) technology is being abandoned by its leading proponents—except in Hawaii.
CSP uses gigantic arrays of mirrors to boil water and generate steam to drive a generator. Overpriced, even by the ridiculous standards of the “renewable” energy business, CSP plants are estimated to cost $311.80 per megawatt hour compared to $210.70 for standard photovoltaic solar, $101.70 for geothermal, and $86.40 for hydro. Natural gas can generate electricity for as little as $63.10.
According to the US DoE, CSP energy production averages only 18% of nameplate capacity. Geothermal plants produce 92% of capacity factor and combined cycle natural gas produces 87%. CSP also has by far the highest fixed Operation and Maintenance costs of any energy technology evaluated by the US DoE.
So obviously CSP finds a home under the Hawaii Clean Energy Initiative.
Act 221 company Sopogy, in 2008, ceremonially broke ground at a Kalaeloa Hawaiian Homelands where they intend to build a 5MW CSP plant with the goal of expanding to 30MW. If built, this would be the largest solar plant in the state.
In February, Kalaeloa Solar One received a water use permit to draw 300,000 gallons of water per day from the KS1 well at Barber’s Point NAS for “new power plant cooling water.”
Hawaiian Homes Commission unanimously approved a “Finding of no Significant Impact” from the EIS for Kalaeloa Solar One and Kalaeloa Solar Two at the September 19, 2011 Commission meeting.
On October 17, Sopogy announced that its “SopoHelios” CSP units will be used at Kalaeloa Solar One.
Hawaii ratepayers will be paying the full price for Kalaeloa Solar One and Two. Under “decoupling” Hawaiian Electric is rewarded with rates sufficient to pay for any and all capital investments made to produce and transmit electricity regardless of efficiency. Kalaeloa Solar One will be selling electricity to HECO for $0.316 per KWh – a wholesale price two to three times higher than the retail prices paid by mainland electricity consumers. This guarantees further upwards pressure on Hawaii’s highest-in-the-nation electricity prices. Once again, the Hawaii Clean Energy Initiative is vacuuming money out of the pockets of middle class ratepayers and into the pockets of politically connected, taxpayer funded cronies.
Meanwhile, in the rest of the world, CSP projects are being abandoned right and left. Smart Planet, November 24 reports:
Google, which invests heavily in renewable energy initiatives, backed off of at least one of them yesterday. Google said it is dropping development of “solar thermal” electricity because solar thermal cannot keep pace with the rapid price decline of another solar technology – photovoltaics. The solar thermal cut came as part of Google’s decision to axe its 4-year old Renewable Energy Cheaper than Coal initiative, although other renewable programs remained intact.
“The installed cost of solar photovoltaic technology has declined dramatically over the past few years, making solar photovoltaic technology a compelling choice for consumers,” Google Fellow and senior vice president of operations Urs Hölzle said in a blog post….
Google’s investments in solar thermal have included $168 million in a giant solar farm that Brightsource Energy Inc. is building Ivanpah, Calif., and a $10 million infusion in Burbank, Calif.-based eSolar.
Ivanpah, located between Barstow and Las Vegas, is a $2.2B solar thermal project backed by $1.375B in US Department of Energy loan guarantees. It is the largest Solar thermal plant currently under construction.
Ironically, Ivanpah is about one hour up I-15 from Daggett, CA, home of the Solar One-Solar Two plant which first tested solar thermal technology. From 1981 to its demolition in 2009, Solar One produced electricity for only eight years. Solar Two was kaput after four years. Dormant since 1999, the project is termed “a success” by the taxpayer-funded standards of so-called “renewable energy.”
Solar One-Two "success" demolished.
Sopogy’s technology is tested at NELHA on the Big Island. Sopogy claims to produce 2MW and sell electricity to HELCO, but the plant does not show up on HELCO’s list of Power Purchase Agreements for 2010. UH Professor of Engineering and Honolulu Mayoral candidate Panos Prevedouros outlines evidence that the $20M plant is in fact producing 0.1MW, and explains:
…1,008 panels and 4 acres are required to produce 0.1 MW which is mostly used internally and none of it is sold to HELCO. Unlike a PV system, this concentrated solar panel system requires a lot of electricity to operate pumps, valves, and sun-tracking motors….
…indeed all that this facility can do on a sunny day without clouds is 100 KW. Now the cost per MW is clearly in the stratosphere at $200 Million per MW or $200 per watt….(a) rooftop photovoltaic (PV) panel system costs about $5 per watt
That’s not all, Solar Millenium, the world’s foremost developer of Solar thermal projects is abandoning its signature technology in favor of ordinary photovoltaic panels at two California desert locations. Forbes Magazine August 18 reports:
In a sign of how the economics of solar power are changing, Solar Millennium indicated it would be easier and more profitable to obtain commercial financing for the photovoltaic portion of the Blythe project rather than try to attract equity investors for a solar thermal project underwritten by the federal government. Last year, California regulators and the Obama administration rushed to approve nine big solar thermal projects, fearing they would not get built unless the developers obtained billions of dollars in federal loan guarantees.
Over the past two years, however, prices of photovoltaic panels have plunged by 50%, making it increasingly attractive to deploy them by the hundreds of thousands to generate electricity on solar farms that can occupy five square miles or more….
developers of seven big renewable energy projects in California have switched from solar thermal technology to photovoltaics in recent months. In June, Solar Millennium’s Solar Trust of America told California regulators that it was planning to redesign its 250-megawattt Ridgecrest project as a photovoltaic farm.
The move followed Solar Trust’s announcement in May of a partnership with a photovoltaic developer. In an interview with Forbes, Solar Trust’s chief executive, Uwe T. Schmidt, said at the time that the company was considering replacing solar troughs at a number of its projects in the U.S. with solar panels.
Brett Prior, a senior analyst with GTM Research, said he expected that trend to continue.
“The economics of PV are much better,” he said. “It means that trough without storage in the U.S. is not competitive economically. You are going to see a bunch of those projects revisit their plans.”
The economics of PV are so much better that Solar Millennium walked away from $2.1B in federal loan guarantees when it abandoned solar thermal technology.
Blythe is about 90 minutes east of another solar scam. The University of Pennsylvania Gazette reports: “In the early 1980s United Energy Corporation built what it claimed would be the world’s largest solar-generating plant on (67 acres in Borrego Springs), attracting several thousand investors seeking a legal tax shelter. But according to Resor, “It never produced one watt of electricity for the public benefit.” The federal government went after the company in the mid-1980s, alleging a Ponzi scheme in which the money that was doled out came from other investors rather than the sale of electricity.”
The sudden shift is not limited to the US. Leading Spanish alternative energy company Iberdrola has turned sharply against CSP projects. Recharge News, November 3 reports the company has “declared war” on the “inefficient CSP sector”. Quoting Iberdrola’s Chairman and Chief Executive Officer, José Ignacio Sánchez Galán, Recharge explains:
“Nobody has bet more on renewables than Iberdrola,” Galán told analysts.
“We [Spain] did irrational things with PV and we are doing the same with CSP. Let’s use mature technologies to produce renewable energy and not immature technologies that produce little energy and have big costs.”
Galán says CSP plants are “not even moderately efficient” and use large quantities of water, as well as producing CO2.
He says government policies to support solar have contributed to Spain’s “tariff deficit”, and led to an unsustainable model for its energy sector. The deficit is the difference between utilities’ costs and the amount they can charge the public.
“You have to pay for the green fiesta,” Galán argues. “We have capacity to do a lot more wind power, costing [government] €40,000 [$50,000] per €1m invested, against €200,000-300,000 per €1m in our solar technologies.”
Iberdrola is the world’s largest wind-power producer, with total capacity of 13.45GW. But Spain has been the world leader in building CSP plants, with about 1GW of capacity expected by the end of the year….
Galán was supported by Spain’s electricity industry association — Unesa— which wants a moratorium on new CSP plants.
Unesa says that thanks partly to subsidies of €2.7bn per year for PV, the tariff deficit has grown to “between €23bn and €24bn”….
So where does a discredited tax-scam go when California dreamers and Euro-socialists turn their backs on its profligacy? Why Hawaii, where “decoupling” and “Feed-in-Tariffs” mean that ratepayers are forced to bankroll the “Green Fiesta.”