Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Concentrated Solar Power Summit: Less talk, more rock

In my last post, I wrote about the immense potential for solar thermal power called CSP for Concentrated Solar Power. CSP is the utility grade way to harness the Sun’s energy.

While there are not many CSP energy plants in operation yet, the most optimistic projections estimate that up to 25% of the world’s energy needs could be met by CSP by 2050. This is obviously a source of some relief to those who continue to be anxious about the environmental damage and risks involved in existing energy development, such deepwater oil wells. But the future is always uncertain especially when it is about predicting what is going to happen in 2030 or 2050. The enthusiastic predictions must not hide the huge difficulties to get there.

As a matter of fact, the potential for CSP is going to be on full display this week in San Francisco at the CSP Today 2010 Summit. Hundreds of experts are going to gather to talk about the quest for a better LCOE; the plusses and minuses of using Dishes vs. Towers vs. Parabolic troughs vs. Fresnel to collect and concentrate solar power; the role of government funding and support and how to access loan guarantees and get projects financed; and so on.

What is remarkable in this event is that one and only one of the key CSP players is not going to speak that much but is going to take the attendees for a long drive to Bakersfield where their first Californian 5 Mega Watts Kimberlina plant is in operation.

In the current status of this industry one project is certainly worth a thousand words.  There are so many hurdles to go through that showing the real plant and explaining how they got there in resolving the permitting, the financing, the commissioning and many other critical hurdles, will speak volumes. It will, for me, be the most important “talk” of the entire conference.

The company is Areva Solar. I like their attitude because it is the mark of a mature company. I should say the mark of a leader, as the mother company Areva Group is leader in nuclear power.  They certainly know how to realize big projects and have proven it.  They know what matters: less talk, more rock.

I hope that the message will be received by other CSP firms. I have a bold suggestion: the next summit should be a tour of the solar fields now in operation, so attendees could actually see what it takes to build a utility-grade solar plant. That is where we will learn the most and therefore will make most progress as a group in our quest to take innovations to scale and make the forecasts of industry analysts a reality.