Why the World’s Most Advanced Solar Plants Fail

Photo Credit: NNehring - Getty Images
Photo Credit: NNehring – Getty Images

Of Popular Mechanics

  • A new report details problems with concentrated solar power being deployed today.

  • This type of report is normal, but concentrated solar power is a far cry from high-performance, standardized installations.

  • Doing “best practices” is critical to any industry and helps train workers and improve results.

The government’s leading renewable energy laboratory has released a new report detailing the strengths and weaknesses of concentrated solar energy. The National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL) released the report with the stated goal of using widely varying comments on existing concentrated solar projects to create a list of suggested best practices in the future.

the NREL report “Its titled CSP best practicesbut it can be seen more appropriately as a combination of problematic problems that have been identified, along with possible solutions or approaches to address those problems, “he begins. What’s inside includes shared problems among solar power concentration (CSP) projects as well as general large-scale construction problems. There are also problems with specific types of CSP plants depending on their designs.

CSP parabolic trough plants use solar collectors to heat water and generate steam, just like a traditional coal power plant or even a nuclear power plant. But in between there is a stage called heat transfer (HTF), where a fluid medium such as oil or liquid metals conveys heat from the collection area to the turbine.

The CSP report says that some of the problems with these systems are the extreme and dangerous heat from HTF and the residual hydrogen produced by these processes. Designers have also placed elements vertically at a higher cost, when most CSPs are built in rural places with a lot of space.

The other type of CSP plant is a tower design, where the mirrors concentrate the solar energy directly into a central tank usually made of molten salt. These plants take a long time to reach temperature and are subject to leakage and poor performance. All of these factors mean that molten salt plants have not yet reached their performance targets or the numbers that their builders have often promised to the locals served by these networks.

The report says these plants have often exceeded their planned operating budgets due to surprise maintenance costs, as well as poor understanding of what the true operating costs will be. NLER writes:

“There are usually problems that are not fully considered and it is generally up to the owner to bear the additional costs. Some of these problems are related to obtaining and maintaining quality O&M personnel; lack of understanding of regional cultures; and availability and punctuality of spare parts and services “.

Even with a few dozen CSP plants in the United States, the report notes that Many of these they are placed in poor places. At the Crescent Dunes solar facility in Tonopah, Nevada, hundreds of birds were killed in the first 18 months. “That is the number of dead birds that biologists have seen” E&E News reported in 2016. But site selection also includes making commitments on how far a construction team must travel to perform on-site repairs, or even how to find a qualified workforce to work on the project in the first place.

The bottom line? CSP contractors and operators are doing the best they can, but the technology is not uniform or understood enough for the approach these builders have been taking. “The very nature of fixed price, fixed schedule, and comprehensive performance guarantee EPC contracts has probably been the main reason for the problems experienced in existing CSP plants,” the report concludes.

There’s nothing wrong with a package for projects that are smaller, less complex, or even just technology with a slightly longer history. But the slowdown in the rapid development of new faulty plants could help CSP emerge as a better and more reliable technology in the future.

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