Saturday , October 23 2021

Solar thermoelectric plants gain ground as an alternative to coal


Alamacenar's clean energy, which can be dispatched 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, is one of the major challenges facing the power industry in recent years. Over time, alternatives such as lithium batteries – such as the project in which AES Gener is moving in Alto Maipo, which would save up to 250 MW – and the concentration of solar energy or CSP. The latter technology generally works by redirecting solar radiation by means of heliostats to a tower with molten salts which, upon gaining temperature, generate steam that drives the turbines. In this way, they can work both day and night.

In the case of Chile, this alternative gained ground due to the unbeatable solar radiation in the Atacama desert. In fact, the first thermosolar plant in Latin America is being built precisely in Chile. This is Cerro Dominador, owned by Spain's Acciona, which consists of a 100 MW photovoltaic plant plus a 110 MW thermosolar unit and 17.5 hours of thermal storage. The unit will have 10,600 heliostats, with a total area for the solar field of more than 700 hectares.

However, although this type of technology seems to be the solution to combine the advantages of renewable energy with storage requirements, its cost has for years been the major obstacle to its development. This, because although this has fallen, in the case of other sources, like the photovoltaic energy and the wind, they did it more quickly.

Even so, several companies in the world bet on this technology. One of them is the Solar Reserve, which manages a portfolio of 1,200 MW of projects in the country to concentrate solar energy, through three units that will be built in the north of the country. According to the vice president of the company for Latin America, José Lobo, in Chile there is the additional advantage of having the highest level of solar radiation on the planet, which makes this technology especially suitable for our country, using an abundant natural resource . and widely available.

"CSP technology with thermal storage is capable of providing benefits to the electrical system that are not possible to provide with intermittent technologies such as photovoltaic or wind, such as manageability, flexibility and inertia," he adds, adding that, as disadvantages or disadvantages, It can be mentioned that, although there are more than 6,000 MW built in the world, "it is a relatively new technology, compared with others very old like hydroelectric or coal thermal, so there is still a technological risk, which is being overcome quickly, with many plants under construction in North Africa, South Africa, the Middle East and China. "

Price signs

Valgesta's partner and former executive secretary of the National Energy Commission (CNE), Andrés Romero, explains that if you look at bid prices for 2016 and 2017, offers made with CSP technology were $ 48 per MWh " , Is very similar to the price level that can be seen in the offers of free and regulated customers. " Therefore, he says, their prices are relatively competitive compared to other technologies that produce 24 hours, such as a combined cycle based on natural gas (offers around $ 65 / MWh) or a power plant that combines photovoltaic energy, water pumping and storage (68 US & MWh).

"The competitiveness that this technology will have in the future will depend, on the one hand, on the real projection of its costs over time, but also on the level of competitiveness of other generation or storage technologies, so it is not possible to proceed with certainty, is the most efficient and competitive solution for the development of our headquarters, "adds Energy Minister Susana Jiménez.

"Replacing coal-fired power plants can be done with a portfolio of renewable generation sources, where cheaper technologies deliver energy at a very low price, while technologies that now have higher total costs provide complementary services and flexibility. which precedes, without counting, that it must also actively enter into energy storage for our matrix, which would give even more support to the country's energy transition and / or decarbonization process, "adds the executive director of the Chilean Association of Renewable Energies (Calçada), Carlos Finat.

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