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Challenges Faced by Solar Thermal Power

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Concentrated solar power (CSP) or solar thermal power is an alternative solar energy generation method to the popular PV panels. It uses high powered lenses and mirrors to focus sunlight on a heat carrying medium like water and turn it into steam. The steam is then utilized to run turbines which generate electricity. Solar thermal power is a less popular but equally useful method of solar power generation which is especially useful for powering commercial and industrial facilities.

However the fact that solar thermal power does not pair well with typical grids and energy storage methods makes it an unpopular option among domestic consumers. Most of the countries that are leading the solar markets like China, US and India are utilizing PV panels instead of CSP. Spain has the 

maximum number of CSP power plants in the world and they have seemingly combined a difficult energy generation method with successful power storage options. However the challenges to CSP do not end. Mentioned below are some of the major challenges faced by the CSP industry today.

 

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  1. Dependency on local partnerships- Unlike PV panels which only require grid connectivity and availability of panels, CSP requires establishing a proper thermal power plant. This involves land, water, manpower, resources, and infrastructure among other things. For most raw materials solar companies will be dependent on the local supplies which may not meet the expected quality or service standards. Government approvals are required for land use and establishment of power plants. 

  2. Lack of experts in CSP- CSP is known as the underdog of the alternative energy market. Since solar panels dominate the industry little attention has been paid to solar thermal power. Most of the technological advances that have taken place have happened in the sector of photovoltaics. Hence, there is lack of experts in the field of CSP. Even if a company wants to grow and expand its operations, it will have a hard time finding skilled individuals and professionals.

  3. Requirement of high startup capital- As mentioned above CSP requires a lot more infrastructure, raw materials and manpower than installing solar panels. This means that the overheads involved in CSP are much higher. Added to this is the fact that CSP cannot be deployed on an individual level like PV panels. 

  4. Problems with natural gas- One of the major directions in which CSP can head is hybridization. However the falling prices of natural gas poses a constant threat to the popularity of CSP and solar power in general. According to experts, solar power cannot compete with the prices of natural gas in general. Most of the consumers are worried about their wallets. Natural gas provides a cheaper and environmentally friendly option. The only way for CSP is to go is hybridization.

  5. Still in early stage- In spite of the latest developments in CSP energy storage like molten salt storage, the technology is still in its early stages and not fully ready for full-scale commercial application. CSP will still take about 10 years to reach where PV panels are today in terms of use and popularity.

 

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