Solar Thermal Capacity Set to Double

Joanna Schroeder

According to a recent Today in Energy published by the U.S Energy Information Administration (EIA) with the expectations that several large, new solar thermal power plants will come online by the end of 2013, solar thermal generating capacity in the U.S. will more than double. The projects feature different solar thermal technologies and storage options. For example, Abengoa’s Solana plant, which came on line in October 2013, is a 250-megawatt (MW) parabolic trough plant in Gila Bend, Arizona with integrated thermal storage. BrightSource’s Ivanpah, expected Ivanpah Photo US DOEto enter service by the end of 2013, is a 391-MW power tower plant in California’s Mojave Desert and does not include storage.

Solana and Ivanpah are much larger than solar thermal plants that have previously entered service in the U.S. Previously, a few smaller-scale and demonstration solar thermal projects have entered service with the only other dedicated solar thermal plants larger than 10 MW in the U.S. being the series of Solar Energy Generating System (SEGS) plants built in California in the 1980s and early 1990s and the Nevada Solar One parabolic trough project completed in 2007.

EIA projections for total solar thermal capacity additions in 2013 and 2014 include six projects for a total of 1,257 MW, with more expected in 2015 and 2016. However, while these solar thermal capacity additions are significant for the technology, they represent only 4% of total expected capacity additions for 2013 and 2014. Solar thermal capacity additions also continue to be outpaced by solar photovoltaic (PV) capacity additions, even though solar PV has only meaningfully entered the utility-scale market in the past few years.

All five of the major solar thermal projects, including Solana and Ivanpah, that are scheduled to come on line in 2013 and 2014 were awarded loans through the U.S. Department of Energy’s Loan Guarantee Program. Solana received a federal loan guarantee for $1.45 billion of the approximately $2 billion cost of the project, according to the parent company, Abengoa. BrightSource Energy reports a $1.6 billion federal loan guarantee on the approximately $2.2 billion Ivanpah project.

Electricity, Renewable Energy, Solar