Solar thermal

  • Ivanpah solar thermal farm a debacle!
  • Australia’s plant estimated to cost the same
  • Solar thermal needs 15 times the concrete and 75 times the steel!
  • Add another third for solar’s 40 year lifetime versus nuclear’s 60 year lifetime

Ivanpah solar thermal farm a debacle!

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Ivanpah: USA

Many pro-renewables folks seem to want Ivanpah closed! It’s revealing too much about the dangers and costs of their favourite ‘baseload’ tecnology, solar thermal. It’s making renewables fans uncomfortable, and rather than learn the truth about solar thermal once and for all, they want it closed. Now. Why is the performance so damning?

COST:  Ivanpah cost $2.2 BILLION for 392 megawatts. That’s $5.6 BILLION for a gigawatt and still not baseload! That’s without considering halving the output to try and store energy to get through the night, which would probably double the cost to around $10 billion per gigawatt when made baseload.

PERFORMANCE: The “Capacity Factor” measures the performance of a non-baseload power source. It only had a capacity factor of 16% during operation, but even the ideal planned capacity factor was only 52%! That means it only produces half the 392 megawatts of ‘nameplate’ capacity. So instead of one solar farm, you need to build 2! That puts us over $10 billion per GW!

STORAGE: But wait, there’s more! Now that there are 2 solar farms to actually reach the advertised output of 392 megawatts, but … there’s still this thing called night time. We must store some of that heat and / or electricity to get through the night, making the whole exercise even more expensive. They currently don’t bother with all that, and instead just burn natural gas. Which means this thing is a back door for more climate change. The graph shows 59,739 MMBtu’s in June alone, which is about 10,302 barrels of oil equivalent energy to back it up in June, their summer!

Australia’s plant estimated to cost the same

ABC News states it would be a $1.2 billion dollar plant for only 110MW. That’s $10.9 BILLION dollars per GW power plant.

Solar thermal needs 15 times the concrete and 75 times the steel!

Professor Barry Brook analysed the Andasol 1 plant and showed it to scale to around $25 billion per GWe! (Where nukes can come in at 20% the cost). Also, the ratio of materials required to build solar thermal are HUGE!

Concrete = 15:1; Steel = 75:1; Land = 2,530:1

The conclusion? When energy storage is properly accounted for, the material and land requirements for solar thermal vs nuclear power area appallingly lop-sided. Further, if the solar plant doesn’t end up lasting 40 years, and the AP-1000 lasts 60 years (nearly half of the US reactor fleet is now licensed to run for this long), then the numbers get even more skewed.

Needless to say, for concrete and steel — two of the most carbon-intensive products embedded in any power generation facility — this amounts to a large difference in the embodied energy and associated greenhouse gas emissions of the capital infrastructure. As such, the additional mining, required to deliver the limestone and iron ore needed to produce the construction materials for solar thermal versus nuclear, must be set against uranium mining (until Generation IV reactors are standard, that is). Anti-nukes who raise the mining objection against nuclear power, but ignore the mining associated with solar (or wind) construction, are presenting a false comparison. They can’t have it both ways.

Add another third for solar’s 40 year lifetime versus nuclear’s 60 year lifetime

Did you notice it above? Brook said: “Further, if the solar plant doesn’t end up lasting 40 years, and the AP-1000 lasts 60 years (nearly half of the US reactor fleet is now licensed to run for this long), then the numbers get even more skewed.” It’s a good point. The longer lifetime of the nuclear plant means that to truly compare the costs, you have to add 50% to the solar thermal farm’s cost for a real comparison, because one GW nuke at 60 years is operating half the lifetime again of the solar farm. So now we’re talking about $15 billion for a 60 year lifetime. Oops.