May 2, 2021
Today, we’re talking about a type of clean energy that doesn’t get much attention these days: concentrating solar power. For the past decade, solar photovoltaic or PV panels have dominated the world solar market, and China has installed over 200 GW of PV, currently adding a whopping 40 GW of PV every year. Distinct from PV, concentrating solar power, or CSP, takes a bunch of different forms: long troughs of mirrors that heat a central element such as a pipe filled with water or molten salt, power towers surrounded by fields of mirrors called heliostats, and a couple others. Concentrated Solar Power (CSP) technologies use mirrors to track the sun and reflect and concentrate its light onto a ‘receiver’, where it is converted into heat. This heat can be used to produce electrical power with a conventional steam turbine and generator, or as industrial process heat. That’s a big advantage over PV, which just produces electricity directly, but doesn’t create high heat. CSP also has great potential for on-site energy storage, which is becoming more important as solar grows.
We’re talking today with two long-time friends of BEN:
Alina Gilmanova, of China’s Key Laboratory of Solar Thermal Energy and Photovoltaic Systems, Institute for Electrical Engineering, Chinese Academy of Sciences;
Jorrit Gosens, Research Fellow on Energy Transitions at the Crawford School of Public Policy, Australian National University. (Also noted for the China Energy Portal, https://chinenergyportal.org.)
Alina and Jorrit recently published a paper (with Johan Lilliestam) on CSP in China entitled: “Windows of opportunity for catching up in formative clean-tech sectors and the rise of China in concentrated solar power,” in Environmental Innovation and Societal Transitions. The link to the journal article is: https://authors.elsevier.com/a/1ckYn7sbuJDG-k
For those without subscription, a freely available pre-print version of the paper can be found here:
Guide to the discussion:
2:13 - Alina talks about the history of CSP in various countries and China
5:23 - Alina describes the relative degree of CSP's technology maturity
7:27 - Alina discusses the dominant design for CSP today and the move in China towards tower technology
9:45 - Jorrit discusses the factors that make different technologies more or less susceptible to technology catch-up, especially now that it's recognized that developing countries like China don't need to wait until a technology reaches maturity
12:40 - Jorrit discusses how CSP compares on those factors that enable catch-up
14:27 - Jorrit discusses how they decided to write this study and why CSP is special in terms of catch-up
16:30 - Jorrit describes the concept of a window-of-opportunity for catch-up, and how CSP fits into this idea
18:11 - Anders, Jorrit, and Alina discuss whether the connection to coal boiler technology motivated Chinese companies to enter the CSP field
22:11 - Anders asks if the bankruptcy of all the competing players inherently led to "catch-up"
24:30 - Alina discusses the role of energy storage in China CSP; references paper on economics of storage using CSP vs PV+battery: "Making the Sun Shine at Night," 2021, at https://www.tandfonline.com/doi/full/10.1080/15567249.2020.1843565.
26:20 - Alina discusses the present economics of CSP in China and whether there is a path forward
27:09 - Alina discusses China's go-abroad strategy for CSP
29:53 - Jorrit explains his view of whether CSP offers lessons for other developing countries considering industrial policy to foster new industries in clean energy
Another useful resource:
Open CSP data base with all CSP projects worldwide (https://csp.guru/), also at:
Johan Lilliestam, Richard Thonig, Chuncheng Zang, & Alina Gilmanova (2021). CSP.guru (Version 2021-01-01) [Data set]. Zenodo. http://doi.org/10.5281/zenodo.4613099