2015 is shaping up to be a big year for the development of huge, hybrid solar power plants – the mega solar complexes that combine solar PV with solar towers and storage, and which are tipped to compete, soon, with baseload fossil fuels on both price and energy supply.
In January, the year kicked off with a record low winning bid by Saudi power firm ACWA, to build a 100MW solar tower plus storage plant in Redstone, South Africa, using technology (pictured below) from the US-based Solar Reserve, whose first completed plant in Nevada is due to begin generating power any day now.
“This a big deal. It is not a one off thing,” the chief of ACWA Power, Paddy Padmanathan told RenewEconomy at the time, in an interview.
This week, the mega solar movement has gained further momentum with the advancement of two more hybrid projects in Chile and Morocco – both taking advantage, like the South Africa project, of parts of the world with plenty of available land and rich solar resources.
In Chile, Spanish renewables group Abengoa was granted permission to build its $1.2 billion, 210MW Atacama 2 solar hybrid project in the Chilean desert.
The project will combine 100MW of solar PV and 110MW of concentrating solar power (CSP), with the latter portion of the plant equipped with storage capacity of 15 hours, ensuring a 24-hour power supply.
It will be Abengoa’s second CSP/PV hybrid plant in Chile, having already begun construction on the Atacama 1 project, also in the sun-drenched northern region of Antofagasta.
As PV Magazine reports, Chile is predicted to add around 770MW of solar PV capacity in 2015, coming from a base of less than 13MW in 2013 – currently, it has an installed total of 500MW.
Abengoa, alone, is on course to develop more than 400MW of CSP capacity in Chile in 2015, as the country aims to reach 20 per cent renewables by 2025.
In Morocco, another Spanish company, Sener, has begun construction on phases two and three of the massive Noor project – the world’s largest thermosolar complex, with a planned final production capacity of 510MW.
The complex, located near the Moroccan city of Ouarzazate, is made up of four plants, three of which will use thermosolar technology developed Sener.
The first, the 160MW Noor I plant, is fitted with Sener’s patented cylindrical parabolic troughs, and will begin operations later this year.
Noor II and Noor III will also be built by Sener, after it won a €500 million contract to complete the final two thermosolar phases of the complex.
Nor II will use the second generation of Sener’s troughs, and will have a production capacity of 200 MW. The 150MW Noor III will use central tower technology with salt receivers – the same as was used in the Gemasolar plant in Seville.
All three Noor solar plants will incorporate a molten salt storage system, making it possible to produce electricity 24 hours a day. They are expected to start commercial operations in 2017. (Noor IV will be a photovoltaic technology plant.)
According to ACWA’s Padmanathan, it is projects like these, and his company’s in South Africa, that will bring solar power directly into competition with baseload fossil fuels, making them not just cheaper than coal and gas, but just as reliable, cleaner – and without fuel price volatility.
In his January interview with RE, Padmanathan predicted that solar – a combination of PV and thermal plus storage – could make up more than half of the 140,000MW that he expects will be built in the Middle East and north Africa region (MENA) over the coming two decades.
He predicts the levelled price of solar PV plants will fall to around 4c/kWh within a few years, while the pricing of solar towers with storage will fall to around 9c/kWh.
“This (South Africa project) is completely unsubsidised. It is 20 per cent lower than what has been achieved so far, and 30 per cent below gas fired generation.
“In this part of the world, where there is plenty of land, and a good solar resource, we can compete head on, and like-for-like with fossil fuels,” he said.