Managing Director, European Solar Thermal Electricity Association (ESTELA)
The total amount of electricity generated by Solar Thermal Electricity (STE) plants around the world is growing steadily. More than 2 GW have been connected to the grid in Southern Europe in the past few years. Operating experience has led to reductions in costs and risk. Plants with installed capacity of a further 1 GW are currently under construction in North America, Africa and Asia.
The European industry has a large stake in many of those projects, and the Renewable Energy Sources (RES) Directive together with the Infrastructure Regulation open the way for even more opportunities in Southern Europe and in the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) region.
In addition to providing significant local economic benefits, a key asset of solar thermal electricity is its dispatchability, as this makes it possible for a utility to accommodate an even larger number of other technologies with variable generation output: the cost per unit of dispatchable generation in STE plants (i.e. generation and storage) is becoming competitive compared with existing renewable energy technologies.
STE technologies have therefore a huge potential and R&D is essential to improve the competiveness of the current designs. An important push must be given to specific technology development activities and to support innovative demonstration plants of commercial size in order to contribute to lower generation costs and to enhance the bankability of the projects.
Due to the expected cost reductions through technological advancement and mass production, the technology will probably no longer depend on the same Feed-In-Tariffs as the ones needed at the very beginning of STE deployment.
This is why ESTELA is keen on facilitating the alignment of R&D efforts with the support of the public administrations, including the European Union and the SET-Plan.
The ESTELA Strategic Research Agenda covers the four broad categories that up to now have been proposed for the thermal conversion of solar energy by the scientists. To varying degrees, they have been the subject of considerable interest. That is why STE is already making a promising contribution to satisfying electricity needs in many regions of the world. It is expected that advances in other fields such as materials and monitoring will create the conditions to conceive other innovative thermal conversion systems.
The kind of R&D supported by ESTELA remains the best way to foster innovation and opens possibilities as the clock ticks for the inhabitants of our planet to find a sustainable path.
Link to ESTELA Strategic Research Agenda: