Concentrated solar is falling out of favor with developers, as decreasing costs for photovoltaic (PV) solar modules have made them more and more competitive and economical. Although just a few years ago, concentrated solar was seen as the future of utility-scale projects, that perception has now changed and it seems likely that such projects in the future will make use of PV.
Probably the most notable concentrated solar (or solar thermal) project is the Ivanpah Solar Generating Station in the Mojave Desert, which has a generating capacity of 377 megawatts (MW). Rather than converting sunlight into electricity directly using a semiconductor wafer, as is the case with PV, solar thermal concentrates and refocuses the sun’s energy onto a boiler using large mirrors and reflective troughs. The boiler creates steam, which spins a turbine to generate power. This was once thought to be the most viable solar electric production method, as it required less land and has the potential to generate power at night using thermal storage technology.
However, only a few solar thermal plants have a thermal storage system (Ivanpah does not), and PV panel prices have dropped precipitously as a result of oversupply and streamlined manufacturing. Bloomberg Businessweek states that 84 percent of all industrial-scale solar plants are PV-based, with only 16 percent using solar thermal.
The shift from solar thermal to solar PV has resulted largely from the fact that PV represents a sound investment not just for utilities, but for homeowners as well. If you’d like to learn more about how you can benefit from this technology, contact West Coast Solar today to schedule a solar site analysis.