Heavy industry can be a viable secondary market today for CSP producers, but questions remain on whether start-up costs are justifiable for industrial users, and how reliable CSP can be for processes that can't pace production by the sun.
Solar thermal heat implies steam, and industries that need steam include refining, food processing, wood-working, desalination and chemicals, among others.
Enhanced oil recovery using CSP is an intriguing application that is already being tested, where steam of a relatively low heat is forced deep underground to liquify and release thick oil deposits. Brightsource is using CSP technology in Coalinga, California, pumping steam into a heavy oil reserve.
The opening of the industrial applications market as a main strategic development channel is one of the subjects that will be discussed and analysed at depth in the future technology section of the 4th International Concentrated Solar Thermal Power Summit in Sevilla (November 15-17) This event has become the most relevant meeting event for the CSP industry.
The main roadblock to adopting CSP is the lack of avoided costs for industries with fossil fuel infrastructure in place. Those with gas lines and electric grid connections already benefit from cheap power.
But for a new factory or work site being constructed, the potential for avoided costs is high, if adding CSP steam power from the start means the company can avoid other, more costly energy infrastructure investments.
Abengoa Solar announced plans last year for two CSP-heavy industry partnerships. The first will use CSP to augment power at a remote government facility in Arizona with a system that will provide supplemental heat to treat groundwater.
The other involves a piano company in Long Island, New York, that will use a parabolic trough collector system to control climate in its factory. Both of these follow a successful food industry adoption of CSP in 2008, when Abengoa installed the world's largest solar process heat system in a California food plant, which uses steam to cook potato and corn-based snacks.
Other heavy industry applications that are less likely today, but have potential, include energy-intensive processes like the production of various metals, cement and glass. Those need electricity, which would require the building of a power plant to translate CSP-generated steam into electricity. That type of investment may only be attractive to those in remote areas, far from reliable power sources.
AREVA Solar considers the mining industry to be a very good market for CSP for that very reason, said Jayesh Goyal, Areva, vice president of North American sales. Mines and heavy metal-producers often end up using diesel, and paying a lot for its transportation to the mine, which means a small CSP plant could offset fuel costs and make sense.
“The key question is really: what is the economic driver for using solar-generated steam?” says Goyal. “As long as there is good solar resource and the alternative cost of fuel is comparable, or if other fuel sources are undesirable due to emissions, then certainly, (industrial) applications are very feasible. (AREVA) has already been approached to provide solar steam for other applications.
However, CSP's cost as a fuel source still doesn't match up with natural gas, which is priced far lower right now, says Goyal, making the cost of using any solar technology less justifiable.
Aside from price, CSP's relationship with heavy industry will also rely on matching up temperature requirements, says Cara Libby, project manager with EPRI's renewable energy group.