Why the World's Most Advanced Solar Plants Are Failing
Photo credit: NNehring - Getty Images
From the popular mechanics
A new report describes problems with concentrated solar energy as they are implemented today.
This type of report is normal, but concentrated solar energy is far from standardized and powerful installations.
Creating best practices is critical to any industry and helps train employees and improve results.
The government's leading renewable energy laboratory has released a new report detailing the strengths and shortcomings of concentrated solar energy. The National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL) released the report with the stated goal of using very mixed feedback on existing concentrated solar projects to compile a list of suggested best practices for the future.
The NREL report “is titled CSP Best Practices, but can more appropriately be seen as a mixture of identified problematic problems and possible solutions or approaches to solve these problems,” it begins. This includes problems that occur with CSP (Concentrating Solar Power) projects, as well as general problems with large-scale construction. There are also problems with certain types of CSP systems due to their design.
Parabolic trough CSP systems use solar collectors to heat water and generate steam heat, just like a conventional coal or even nuclear power plant. In between, however, is a stage called heat transfer (HTF), in which a liquid medium such as oil or liquid metals transports the heat from the collection area to the turbine.
The CSP report states that some of the problems with these systems are the extreme and dangerous heat of the HTF and the hydrogen waste generated by these processes. Designers also positioned elements vertically at a higher cost if most CSPs are built in rural areas with lots of space.
The other type of CSP system is a tower construction, in which mirrors concentrate the solar energy directly in a central reservoir, which is usually made of molten salt. These plants take a long time to reach their temperature and are subject to leaks and poor performance. All of these factors mean that molten salt plants have not yet achieved their performance goals, or the numbers that their builders have often promised the locals that these grids will serve.
According to the report, these plants often exceeded their planned operating budgets because the maintenance costs were surprisingly high and they did not know exactly what the actual operating costs would be. NLER writes:
“There are usually problems that are not fully taken into account and it is generally up to the owner to cover the additional costs. Some of these problems are related to attracting and maintaining high quality O&M personnel. lack of understanding of regional cultures; Availability and timeliness of spare parts and services. "
Even with just a few dozen CSP plants in the United States, the report finds that many are in poor locations. Hundreds of birds were killed in the Crescent Dunes solar facility in Tonopah, Nevada in the first 18 months. "This is just the number of dead bird biologists who saw biologists," reported E&E News in 2016. However, the location selection also includes compromises on how far a construction team has to travel to carry out on-site repairs, or even how Qualified workers for the job can be found primarily in the project.
The final result? CSP contractors and operators do their best, but the technology is not uniform or is not sufficiently understood for the approach that these builders have chosen. "The nature of EPC contracts with a fixed price, schedule, and comprehensive performance guarantee was probably a major cause of problems that existed in existing CSP plants," the report concludes.
There is nothing wrong with a package for projects that are smaller, less complex or only technologically with a somewhat longer track record. However, slowing the rapid development of faulty new plants could help CSP to become a better and more reliable technology in the future.
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