Concentrating Solar Power systems are the next big thing in renewable energy. They produce electricity using hundreds of mirrors to concentrate the sun's rays to a temperature between 400 and 1000 degrees Celsius. Put into context - bacteria die at 50 degrees, water boils at 100 degrees and volcanic lava is 1000 degrees Celsius. CSP uses direct sunlight called 'beam radiation' - this is the sunlight that is not deviated by clouds, fumes or dust in the atmosphere. Suitable sites for CSP are those with large amounts of these beams, ideally located between the equator and 40 degrees latitude north or south. A range of technologies can be used to concentrate and collect sunlight and to turn it into medium to high temperature heat. This heat is then used to create electricity in a conventional way - using a steam or gas turbine or a Stirling engine.
A revolution just waiting to happen
In a very short time, the technology has demonstrated huge technological and economic promise. It has one major advantage - a massive renewable resource, the sun - and very few downsides. For regions as sunny as California, CSP offers the same opportunity as the large offshore wind farms in Europe. Concentrating solar power to generate bulk electricity is one of the technologies best-suited to mitigating climate change in an affordable way, as well as reducing the consumption of fossil fuels.
CSP has actually been around for more than a century. The first systems were installed in 1912 near Cairo in Egypt to generate steam for a pump that delivered water for irrigation. It was competitive with coal-fired installations in regions where coal was expensive. But coal got cheaper - even as the expense to our planet's ecosystem has skyrocketed.
Commercial applications of CSP were not developed until the mid 1980s. The first large-scale stations were built in California's Mojave Desert and the biggest projects currently under construction are in Calafornia and Spain. CSP is now the third multi-billion dollar industry for clean power generation having expanded rapidly over the past five years to become a mass-produced and mainstream energy generation solution. It can deliver reliable industry-scale power around the clock thanks to modern storage technologies and hybrid operations.
We've got the power!
Our latest report, Global Concentrating Solar Power Outlook 2009 (published jointly with the European Solar Thermal Electricity Association and the International Energy Agency's SolarPACES) charts a number of scenarios for development of CSP as part of the energy revolution which the world needs if we are to avoid the catastrophic effects of runaway climate change.
Here, with a nod to the Harpers Index, is CSP by the numbers: