Can built in energy storage save solar thermal?

With the steep drops in solar panel prices over the past few years, the fate of solar thermal technology has hung in the balance as the technology attempts to compete against solar PV. BrightSource pulled its IPO, one sign that perhaps that public markets would take some convincing with regards to the long term viability of the technology.

The one differentiator, however, that could set solar thermal apart is the ability to store energy for overnights. Much of this tech has focused on using molten salt to store excess solar thermal energy and then releasing in the evening. If the technology can be perfected there could be major upsides for utilities because it’ll mean less money that has to be spent on costly grid storage in the form of batteries or even demand side energy management programs.

Utility Arizona Public Service is now testing a solar thermal energy storage system at its Solana Generating Station which could provide as much as 6 hours of energy storage for a plant that is 280 megawatts. That’s obviously not the whole night but it’s a significant amount of stored power. And if solar thermal systems can become reliable energy stores, they just might have a chance of competing with solar PV. APS says the Solana plant is due to go into commercial operation this month.

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Adam Lesser

Cleantech Curator Gigaom Research

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