Concentrated Solar Power 
A Conventional Power Plant Fueled by the Sun

The Turning Point in Utility Scale Generation with Dr. Morse of Abengoa


Dr. Morse shared his expertise on Concentrated Solar Power on June 13, 2013, offering a very informative overview of the technology and it’s development.

concentrated solar powerA few things that were revealed in the lecture include:

The Solana (to begin operation this year) and Mojave (to begin operation in 2014) CSP plants that are both currently under construction will both be over 80% made in the USA- these plants are providing a job market which clearly benefits the surrounding economy.

Through thermal storage, CSP allows us to use the sun’s energy at times when PV can not do the trick. This means it can be a very important part of the equation in balancing the variability of solar photovoltaics and sustaining energy availability during peak demand times.

CSP is growing rapidly as technology evolves, and has almost tripled in installed capacity in the last 2 years.

CSP plants (as well as most other types of conventional power plants) do use a lot of water in the cooling process, and CSP also uses water for cleaning the heliostats to maintain reflectivity. A general example:

The Ivanpah plant that is currently under construction (of the power tower variety) will be largely air cooled and will use the equivalent of what a nearby golf course used to maintain 2 holes of water.

What does that mean?

  • 34.72” average rainfall in Des Moines, Iowa

  • 130 acres of turf for an 18 holes golf course will require in Des Moines Iowa: 30 million to 35 million gallons in an average year

  • Golf courses near Dry Lake, California where Ivanpah is located are in Truckee, California.

  • Truckee, CA: Average annual precipitation 30.8 in.- so the comparison shows 12.7% more rainfall in Des Moines.

  • Still using these numbers, the assumption is that if an 18 hole golf courses uses 30 – 35 million gallons, then 2 holes will use 1/9th of that, equalling 3.3 million – 3.9 million gallons of water a year- not counting the 12.7% less rainfall factor.

concentrated solar powerSolana, a 280 megawatt (MW) parabolic trough plant with six hours of thermal storage, is on land that was once an alfalfa farm. This plant which is located 70 miles southwest of Phoenix, Arizona uses ⅕ as much water as the alfalfa farm that was once in it’s precise location.

The water use by power plants is an increasingly important issue moving forward.  This plant is largely air cooled, and so is on the conservative side of water usage.  Because of this issue and what research shows as to how much water power plants actually use, power generating facilities will be looking towards being more air-cooled.

Overall, there are concerns with any form of developing energy production, and we must intelligently consider each, embrace each for what they offer while making smart informed decisions.

concentrated solar powerWe must also analyze what their impact is environmentally as well as economically, and make our decisions based on all of these variables.

It looks like CSP is economically viable, and though it may be considered the “other white meat”, it is quickly becoming recognized as part of the solution to the growing demand for energy throughout the world.


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