Positive Signs from the Core Markets for Solar-Thermal Power Plants

published: 2011-02-09 15:18 | editor: | category: News

The solar-thermal power generation sector saw a promising start to 2011. All of the Solar Millennium Group’s core markets showed positive signs: Spain has provided for legal security in the issue of feed-in tariffs for pre-registered projects; the US extended its Renewable Energy Grants, for investments in solar-thermal power plants by one year; and, in the MENA region (Middle East and North Africa), Solar Millennium managed to pre-qualify to participate in the bid for a 125 MW solar power plant in Morocco.

In Spain, Real Decreto 1614/2010, which took effect in December, governs the details of the Spanish feed-in tariffs, thus providing for investment security and regulatory stability. These regulations adapt earlier royal decrees to the changed situation on the Spanish market. As such, it was determined that a maximum of 4,000 full-load hours will be remunerated for a parabolic trough power plant with 9-hour thermal storage capacity.

The Ibersol power plant developed by Solar Millennium, for instance, has storage for roughly 8 hours and is expected to reach 3,400 full-load hours per year on average, meaning the regulations allow for a sufficiently large buffer in particularly sunny years. Another regulation refers to the first year of power plant operation: a regulated fixed tariff applies for this period. Starting from the second year of operation, power plant operators can chose between a fixed and a variable tariff that consists of the pool market price for electricity plus a premium.

The Decree furthermore filled a legal loophole, meaning that retroactive changes for pre-registered power plants, such as Andasol 3 and Ibersol, will be excluded in the future. The Spanish Concentrated Solar Power (CSP) Industry Association Protermosolar also agrees that this Decree will finally put an end to the past year’s discussions of the feed-in tariffs.

Also in December US President Barack Obama signed a bill that prolongs  Renewable Cash Grant by another year. This subsidy scheme provides for a direct grant of up to 30% of investment costs instead of subsequent tax relief for investments in alternative energies such as solar-thermal power plants. Originally, this subsidy was only meant to apply to power plant projects that commenced construction before the end of 2010. The Blythe project developed by Solar Millennium would have met this condition in any case, since preparatory construction works have already started. However, the extension of this subsidy scheme will now improve the economic environment for additional solar-thermal power plant projects. If construction commences before the end of 2011, these could likewise qualify for the grant.

In the scope of its solar energy promotion project, Morocco has tendered a solar-thermal power plant with a capacity of 125 MW. 19 consortia had applied for the opportunity to build the power plant, but only four were pre-qualified. Solar Millennium AG is in one of these consortia, together with Evonik Steag GmbH and Orascom Construction Industries, the Egyptian partner with whom the company already carried out the Egyptian hybrid power plant in Kuraymat. In a next step, the consortium will submit a concrete proposal for the power plant to be built on the edge of the High Atlas Mountains at the Ouazarzate location.

International studies have also announced the continuous rise of solar-thermal power plants. For example, the current study by the Swiss bank Sarasin forecasts installed output worth 32 gigawatts (GW) in 2020. The Solar Thermal Electricity Study 2025 (by AT Kearney / ESTELA) even assumes that installed global output could amount to 100 gigawatts in the ideal case. Both studies are confident that the power generation costs of solar-thermal power plants will drop by some 30 to 50 percent in the same period. Levelized costs of electricity would thus reach € 0.08 to 0.10 per kWh.

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