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30 Apr 2013 04:04:18

Uncertainty surrounding CSP growth as natural gas boom continues

As the vote to appoint Ernest Moniz as the next US energy secretary moves to the full Senate, the long-term impact that his appointment could have on the concentrated solar (CSP) project pipeline in the United States is unclear.

Last week, Moniz highlighted the current underinvestment in advanced-energy research. He proposed that future areas of focus should include “small-scale nuclear reactors, renewable energy, energy efficiency and the capture of carbon-dioxide emissions from coal-fired power plants”.

However, although Moniz has showed support for innovation in renewables, experts have highlighted that he remains a strong advocate of natural gas and nuclear power as cleaner alternatives to coal. He has suggested that the recent natural gas boom, as a result of the widespread use of Hydraulic fracturing, can play a crucial role in the US energy mix as the country continues its transition to renewables.

Nevertheless, opponents have argued that the increasing use of natural gas could also slow growth in the clean energy sector, as utilities look to contain electricity prices, to avoid having to pass along higher costs to consumers. Consequently, the jury is still out on whether the appointment of Moniz will have a positive impact on CSP growth during Obama’s second term in office. The good news is that 2013/14 will see a 120% increase in CSP capacity in the United States, with a total of 1318MW coming online. Experts have highlighted that this increase in capacity will help financiers and utilities determine the commercial viability of large-scale CSP plants and will have a positive impact on the future project pipeline, which currently stands at just over 1.5GW.

In a recent interview with CSP Today, Tex Wilkins, the executive director of the Concentrating Solar Power Alliance, said that new projects coming online “will have a significant impact on the CSP industry”. Wilkins went on to explain that the projects will “give the financial community increased confidence that the technology works, making it easier for future projects to be financed”. Furthermore, this week the U.S. Department of Energy’s SunShot Initiative Program announced that it will provide $20 million towards research into CSP thermochemical energy storage, a clear sign that it will continue its robust R&D portfolio focused on dispatchable CSP technologies.

In order to examine the future impact that the commissioning of plants will have on the industry in the United States, as well as the long-term R&D goals in CSP, CSP Today have released new details for CSP Today USA 2013, taking place on 26 and 27 June in Las Vegas. BrightSource Energy and SolarReserve will participate on the keynote panel to evaluate the impact that the Ivanpah and Crescent Dunes plants will have on financing, regulation and the future project pipeline.

Furthermore, to demonstrate the progress made in the SunShot Initiative and to share the very latest innovations with financiers and policy makers, the event will host exclusive SunShot Initiative Roundtables. Leading CSP companies, universities and research institutions will host the roundtables, with experts from Wilson Solarpower, the Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Terrafore, Univeristy of Arizona, amongst others.

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