Concentrating Solar Power is a relatively new technically proven technology, but is not yet consolidated in a strong international market, such as wind power. Large commercial applications in Spain and the United States have demonstrated its efficacy and profitability. The CSP field operation costs are extremely low, which ensures that, over the years of operation of the plant, the initial investment is amortized.
As an example, Spain's grid operator has released provisional figures for 2014, finding that the country has already reached 2% of its electricity production based on Concentrating Solar Power (CSP). At the end of the same year, Spain had a total CSP installed power capacity of 2.300 MW.
How much energy can be produced?
CSP plants produce electricity by concentrating sun rays on a small area. The amount of energy generated depends mainly on the intensity of direct solar irradiation –. The energy generation can be increased by adding storage capacity or combining the generator with other fuels such as biodiesel, biomass or natural gas.
A basic plant in Brazil, without storage or combination with other fuels, can produce electricity during 2000 hours per year. Combined with other fuels or heat storage, this number could go up to 8000 hours, since this mix makes possible the energy production 24 hours a day. Therefore, CSP is considered a stable source of energy.
What is the most important technological advantage of CSP plants for Brazil?
Brazil faces the challenge of diversifying its electrical system using renewable sources.
Taking advantage of the country’s large territorial dimensions and the high rates of solar irradiation, solar power becomes a promising opportunity to achieve diversification of energy sources. Nevertheless, there exists one important challenge: Clean energies often are linked to instable climatic factors, as they may depend on wind, sun or rain in order to generate power. Consequently, technologies with the possibility to provide electricity anytime become crucial for the success of a clean energy matrix.
With the possibility of storing heat, a CSP power plant is able to generate electricity continuously, even on cloudy days and at night. Moreover, CSP technology can be combined with other sources of intermittent renewable energy, contributing to a clean and at the same time continuous energy generation.
What are the minimum requirements to build a solar thermal plant?
One of the main conditions for the construction of a CSP plant is to install it in a location with high and constant levels of direct solar radiation, without shading or air pollution (smoke or fog). Semiarid regions with few clouds are ideal for CSP ventures.
Ideally, the site has flat ground and access to water, which is used for cleaning the mirrors and optionally for the cooling of the plant. In addition, there should be a minimum of infrastructure for the plant operation: roads to supply the equipment and arrival of workers, and access to transmission systems so the energy can be supplied to consumers.
Where is enough sun in Brazil?
To generate feasible electricity, the direct normal irradiation must be at least between 1,800 and 2,000 kWh/m2·year. For process heat generation for industries, at least 1,600 kWh/m2·year is necessary. According to satellite data, virtually the entire Northeast region and much of the Midwest and Southeast regions have potential for the deployment of a CSP plant. However, a measurement campaign on the ground is yet required. In the northeastern Cerrado region, the irradiation is estimated between 2000-2300 kWh/m2·year. The expectation for the South, Southeast and Midwest also features an extensive area with levels close to 2,000 kWh/m2·year.
What is Brazil's potential to absorb this technology?
In Brazil a CSP market does not yet exist, but it is one of the countries with high potential for the development of CSP energy for several reasons:
There are vast areas of the country with direct solar irradiation, favorable for the installation of CSP plants;
The Brazilian industrial sector is sufficiently developed and diversified to produce a great part of the components and services needed in CSP plants;
Scientific research, together with the industry, in Brazil is able to absorb and further develop the technologies today associated with industrialized countries such as Germany, Spain and the United States.;
The solar thermal technology is not yet consolidated, which means that there is much potential for development, improvement and local adaptation.
What are major assets for CSP in Brazil?
CSP plants reach it high efficiency when installed in semiarid and flat regions. These areas usually are not very productive for agriculture or livestock. However, the installation of a solar thermal plant can lead to regional development as it creates direct jobs in the construction, supply and maintenance of the plant, in addition to indirect jobs in the region such as restaurants, schools, housing etc..
Apart form the climate, Brazil has other favorable and important conditions for the success of this technology: the Brazilian industry and the energy sector are highly skilled and productive and there is already an established sector of the production chain for conventional power plants. The power block, which equals about 40% of the construction cost of CSP plants, is the same used in conventional power plants. Concrete and metallic structures for a CSP plant can also be produced in Brazil. A CSP plant can be built with national workforce, favoring the Brazilian economy and the development of the industrial sector. Brazilian researchers initiated studies to adapt the technology to local conditions.
What are the major challenges for CSP in Brazil?
As it is a relatively new technology and in constant development, Brazil has no practical experiences. The main challenges for the implementation of CSP are:
High initial investment;
Relatively high interest rates for loans, since there are no incentives yet in Brazil;
Regulations framework still in process: issues such as integration to the national auctions, taxation of imported equipment and support programs and funding need to be clarified;
Lack of qualified experts to design, build and operate the plants. So far, there is no specific and formal training for professionals in Brazil.
What is the role of the private sector for CSP development in Brazil?
In order to develop the domestic industry, Brazil has to be open for partnerships. The main goal is to develop the specific knowledge, suitable for the country`s specificities. Aiming at creating international cooperation, the Brazilian energy sector is still discovering the best ways to explore an untapped – and profitable – market.
Brazil offers good conditions for international companies and researchers that are interested in cooperating with the development of CSP technology. Besides that, companies and the industrial sector are more and more interested in allocating resources into CSP technologies, as the innovation potential of the technology is being disseminated.