Focus on Energy

New report shines spotlight on concentrating solar thermal energy, a renewable energy technology with around-the-clock potential.

| July 3, 2009

Washington, D.C. – Concentrating solar thermal (CST), a renewable energy technology that can provide electricity around-the-clock, has the potential to replace traditional fossil fuel-based power sources and become a central part of the U.S. power supply.

“Now, while Congress works on climate and energy legislation, is a good time to focus on CST and what is needed to fully realize the potential of this attractive renewable energy option,” says Britt Staley, the lead author of a new report by the World Resources Institute. “State and federal support for developing renewable energy sources and increased federal oversight of the transmission grid are needed.”

The authors of Juice from Concentrate argue that CST is different from many renewable energy technologies that provide power intermittently. When combined with thermal storage, CST can generate electricity on demand, not just when the sun is shining. It can also be integrated with other kinds of backup power.

Electricity from other renewable sources can be stored in batteries, but these are inefficient and expensive. CST power can be stored as heat in tanks – like coffee in a thermos – and used to produce electricity when needed. CST’s ability to provide electricity on demand and around-the-clock could enable utilities to meet baseload power instead of relying on coal-fired power plants.

If CST displaced new coal plants built in the United States today until 2030, carbon dioxide emissions could be reduced by 5 billion tons cumulatively – offsetting the annual emissions from electricity consumption of 35 million homes over that period.

“Even though there are 9,000 megawatts on the drawing board worldwide, several barriers exist to solar thermal power development,” Staley says. “Up-front investment for CST is high compared to that associated with coal plants. Federal and state policy support can help bring down costs over time to make CST competitive with coal.”

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