September 04, 2009
Lowest Cost Solar Power At Coal Plants

Okay, this is really strange. But if you integrate concentrating solar power mirrors to the existing electric generating equipment of a coal electric plant the result is the cheapest way to generate electric power from the sun.

A project that will add solar power to a coal-fired power plant could reduce the amount of coal required to generate electricity and dramatically cut the cost of solar power.

Effectively this avoids lots of idle electric generator capital equipment at night.

"The thing that's attractive about this is you only have to buy the solar field portion of the plant, which is 50 to 60 percent of the cost of the plant," says Hank Price, director of technology at Abengoa Solar. That could effectively make solar-thermal power about 30 to 50 percent cheaper, according to various estimates. That would equate to a range of about six to 12 cents per kilowatt-hour, which is competitive with many conventional sources of electricity. "It's potentially the most cost-effective way to get significant solar power on the grid," he says.

There are obvious limits to this approach. Coal plants need to be in sunny areas and to have land available near them. Plus, there must be some physical distance limitation for how far the heated liquid can be transported to the coal plant. So the percentage of total electricity coming from concentrating solar at an existing coal plant is limited to 10-15% according to the article.

Share |      Randall Parker, 2009 September 04 08:53 AM  Energy Solar

Fat Man said at September 5, 2009 1:58 PM:

You also need water. It is really a pointless exercise, because places with coal don't have sunshine and places with sunshine have neither coal, nor water.

Siphon said at September 20, 2009 1:05 PM:

Places with no water can do dry cooling. Of course, standard evaporative wet cooling water consumption is actually quite low compared to all the other uses of water, so its unlikely to be a problem pretty much anywhere in the world.

You don't need a lot of coal plants. Just a couple big ones in sunny areas, to get some practical experience and learning by doing stuff to reduce installation cost of the solar array.

Siphon said at September 20, 2009 1:13 PM:

The main point is that this is a transitional strategy. The solar field is the biggest portion of a solar thermal electric powerplant. Getting some experience and manufacturing economies by installing real systems in coal plants, and then transition to standalone (or gas hybrid) powerplants makes intuitive sense.

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