The New York Times this weekend has an article discussing the recent boom type expansion of Utility scale solar thermal electric generating plant in the state of California. This technology is getting a boost from the federal government allowing solar thermal companies to have access to the capital funding required to build and launch these plants. For Solar Thermal energy readers
The obvious concern is that a change in the political landscape could derail current projects and limit future funding to private investments.
Solar thermal or concentrated solar power technology however has huge advantages over most of the renewable energy sources currently available for commercialization.
These advantages stem from the thermodynamics of the process itself which in the long run will prove irresistible to the private investor.
These advantage include:
1- Efficiency. Today’s newest gasoline engine vehicles convert fuel energy to kinetic energy at about 19%. Electricity generated from coal it is about 6% (60% of the energy of the coal goes back into the coal burning process ). Solar thermal devices using Stirling engines convert over 30% of the suns energy into electricity.
2-Scalability. Solar thermal power technology comes in various forms: dish, tower or parabolic trough. All are very scalable. A coal or nuclear plant once sized is pretty much locked into the amount of power it is able to produce. It can produce less but to produce more would require large changes or additional plants. Solar thermal can easily be added in stages and in theory is able to produce power as soon a one unit comes online.
3- Energy storage. Wind and solar PV technology currently store energy using electric batteries. Solar thermal is able to store the energy as heat with less losses due to conversion and storage retrieval.
4- Simplicity. The technology itself is relatively simple in design. Components and materials are for the most part readily available or easily manufactured.
Here is the link to the New York Time Article.