Solar thermal power helped by feed-in tariffs
Concentrated Solar Power (CSP) taps the suns energy by using mirrors to concentrate the sunlight and produce steam to drive eletricity generators. Spain is promoting CSP and encouraging commercial-scale solar thermal power development by reducing economic barriers for large-scale producers, and by offering favourable feed-in tariffs for electricity provided to the electricity grid. With an 11MW rated plant near Seville due to become operational early 2007, and several additional plants currently under construction, Spain is expected to boast about 500MW of CSP capacity by 2010 – producing enough energy to power more than 100,000 homes, and save thousands of tones of CO2 emissions at relatively little cost.
CSP uses mirrors to concentrate the sunlight and turn it into high-temperature heat that can power a steam or gas turbine, or an engine, driving a conventional electricity generator.
Because it uses a thermal phase, CSP technologies has the advantage of being able to store the heat energy in various forms, and can back up its energy production by powering those same turbines and generators by burning natural gas at times when the plant is unable to match the peak load. This means that CSP can almost entirely alleviate problems of intermissions or fluctuations in power production associated with some renewable technologies, such as wind or solar PV.
CSP producers in Spain have been encouraged by the removal of economic barriers for the grid connection of renewable energy. In March 2004 the Spanish Government issued the ‘Royal Decree 436/2004’ that made CSP projects more attractive and bankable by:
Granting the same tariffs for PV and Solar Thermal from 100kW to 50MW
Providing a premium on top of the electricity pool price of 0.18 €/kWh for the first 200MW of solar thermal plants, which roughly equates to a total price of 0.21 €/kWh
Guaranteeing this price for 25 years
Annual adaptation to electricity price escalation
Allowing 12-15% natural gas back-up to allow for reliable capacity
These incentives immediately attracted commercial developers in Spain, reassured industrial players and the financing community, and gave renewable energy a competitive edge in Spain.
When it comes online in early 2007, the Sanlúcar Solar PS10 Central-Tower Plant in Andalucía will be Europe’s first commercial solar power-plant of its kind, producing enough power to supply a population of 10,000. The opening of this plant, and the continuing construction of additional plants in Spain, highlights solar electricity's emergence as an increasingly viable source of energy. Spain has set an overall target for 29.4% of its electricity to come from renewable energy sources by 2010. By then, it predicts that 500MW, enough to power more than 100,000 homes, will be provided by CSP.