Areva exits solar, mothballs Aust-made CSP technology

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Areva exits concentrated solar power, mothballs CLFR technology developed in Australia – creates uncertainty for $100m Kogan Creek solar boost project.

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Four years after buying cutting edge concentrated solar power technology from Sydney developers, French nuclear giant Areva has announced that it is quitting the solar business, citing weak sales and falling revenues across nuclear and renewables.

The Paris-based company announced the move after revealing significant H1 2014 losses, noting that while Areva Solar – a unit of the company that basically consisted of what remained of the acquired, Australian-founded startup Ausra – had generated revenues of €100 million ($US134 million) it had made “tens of millions” in losses on that figure.

kogan creekAreva bought Ausra – formerly and Solar Heat and Power – and its compact linear Fresnel reflector (CLFR) solar steam generator technology from the company’s founders in 2010, by which time the originally Sydney-based firm had relocated to the US.

At the time of its move to California, in 2007, the CSP start-up managed to attract more than $40 million in venture capital funding from cleantech investment big shots Khosla Ventures and KPCB.

Doubtless the main attraction back then was Ausra’s CSP technology, which is based on research by Australian David Mills, who developed the evacuated tube technology used in much of the world’s solar hot-water systems.

As Greentech Media reports, Ausra VP John O’Donnell once claimed the company’s CLFR technology could potentially produce power at 6.7 cents per kilowatt-hour at scale with its mirrors, lenses, and thermal fluids.

And though Areva was reportedly still insisting its CSP business remained viable as early as last year, cracks were beginning to emerge – not just for Areva, but for developers of solar thermal tough technology in general.

As GreenTech Media Research has noted, “declines in PV module costs have undercut trough technology and put it at a significant cost disadvantage. Since the beginning of 2013, 1 gigawatt worth of CSP projects have been suspended, and an additional 305 megawatts have been delayed.”

In Australia, Areva’s 44MW Kogan Creek project ran into further troubles, pushing out the commissioning of what would be the world’s biggest “solar booster” plant to beyond end of this year. It was to have been completed late last year.

In its 2013 profit results, Areva revealed it had suffered a fall in revenue due to “the difficulties encountered” at the the Queensland project. As we reported in February this year, a 15 per cent fall in revenues suggested that costs may have blown out.

There are successes, too, though, with the first Areva CLFR plant using molten salt commissioned for testing at the US Department of Energy’s Sandia National Laboratories, and said to be a contender for the Sunshot target of $US0.06 per kWh.

In India, the first 125MW stage of the Reliance/Areva CLFR plant is set to be connected to the grid as soon as next month, with plans for a second plant.

In response to questions from RenewEconomy about the future of the Kogan Creek project – which aims to provide a boost to the power station’s 750MW capacity – project developer CS Energy said that work was continuing as planned.

“We expect AREVA Solar to meet its contractual obligations,” CS Energy CEO Martin Moore said in an emailed statement.

Moore, who ascribed the lengthy delays on the Solar Boost Project to a combination of factors, including scheduling and technical issues said it “remained to be seen” whether Areva’s decision to exit concentrated solar would have any further impact.

“The Solar Boost Project is AREVA Solar designed the solar thermal addition to use their Compact Linear Fresnel Reflector (CLFR) technology to supply steam to the power station’s turbine, supplementing the conventional coal-fired steam generation process,” the statement said.

“The project is presently expected to complete in 2015, subject to the satisfactory resolution of the previously mentioned issues.”

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1 Comment
  1. Connor Moran 5 years ago

    Who will end up with the intellectual property here?

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