Dr. Keith Lovegrove - The value of storage & dispatchable solar thermal power

Dr. Keith Lovegrove, former leader of the ANU Solar Thermal Group and now Senior Consultant – Solar Thermal at renewable energy consultancy IT Power, speaks to Beyond Zero about the latest Concentrated Solar Thermal Power (CSP) plant technology, CSP storage developments and his recent trip to the SolarReserve Crescent Dunes project currently under construction in Tonopah, Nevada US.

As the cost of solar photovoltaic (PV) generated electricity has dropped dramatically in recent years through larger commercial scale projects, the economic opportunity for solar thermal power has come through the ability to store the generated heat in chemicals, typically molten salt. This heat can then be used to drive a steam turbine and generate electricity when required. This 'dispatchability' is the ability to generate whenever the demand is there. Keith points out that peaking power is more valuable than baseload. He says the real value of storage and dispatchable electricity could be much larger. Although renewable energy portfolios and Feed-in Tariffs have increased solar installed capacity, there is no real policy that currently recognises your ability to generate at a time of high demand - there's no time signal.

In addition to electricity generation, Keith also sees this energy storage being utilised to make fuels. Fuels for transport and as a way of moving solar energy between countries, to replace the oil trade! 

Keith tells us about his January 2013 trip to the US where he was invited to make a presentation on thermochemical energy storage for CSP systems for the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE)'s SunShot Initiative program. SunShot seeks to make solar energy cost-competitive with other forms of electricity by the end of the decade at a published target of 6c/kWh for solar electricity by 2020. Keith also says, it was inspiring to see the SolarReserve Crescent Dunes project in Nevada under construction, and emphasises that deployment is the secret to cost reduction. Crescent Dunes is a 110 MW solar thermal power tower plant with 10 hours molten salt power tower technology storage, at ~3km field diameter.

The CSP tower technology is the core of the Zero Carbon Australia Stationary Energy Plan.

To learn more about how Solar Thermal Power works, check out our Resources page.

Dr. Keith Lovegrove's presentation on CSP storage to BZE's monthly Discussion Group is here.