Transmission key to large scale solar projects: say experts

Some of the world’s most ambitious large-scale solar projects have been plagued by delay, ultimately making them a financial burden rather than a beacon on the renewable power horizon. Does this mean such projects are outdated? GlobalData’s power writer Andrew Tunnicliffe looks at the problems. Tunnicliffe says: “Chile’s Cerro Dominador solar tower and the facility is a $1.3bn project – a combined photovoltaic (PV) and concentrated solar power (CSP) facility situated in the Atacama Desert. It has been beset with financial difficulty since it was first mooted in 2013. As a result, construction has been painfully slow, with the 100 MW PV component only becoming operational in early 2018.
“Israel is contending with a similar issue. Situated in the Negev Desert, Ashalim power station comprises three sites each using different solar technologies, with a fourth planned. It includes a $1.13bn CSP tower and plant. Since contracts were awarded in 2008, the costs of producing electricity through CSP and PV have changed dramatically. PV production has become much less costly, whilst thermal solar power such as CSP has risen sharply, making it unsuitable for large scale power leaving Israel with a costly burden for years to come.
Despite the experience of Israel and Chile, utility-scale solar projects do have a future and are economically viable according to the Institute for Energy Economics and Financial Analysis Dennis Wamsted.
Wamstead tells GlobalData: “In my opinion, large scale solar power is completely viable in almost any country today.
“When you have a really large project, you may have space and the natural resource but you also then have to have the transmission to get the resource into the cities and towns. States in the Midwest US, where the wind is in abundance, are ideal for [wind] farms but demand for what they produce is often many miles away. You have to, even in a country like the US, build additional transmission lines to move that power. That is definitely an issue.”
One of the main challenges for large scale solar projects is energy storage.
Wamsted adds: “In a lot of ways, the battery storage industry is in the same place the solar industry was a few years ago. Around 15 years ago nobody thought about it, 10 years ago people started to, and over the last 10 years, solar has become this economic choice. Battery storage is going through the same development right now in my opinion.
“Solar power is already an economic alternative. I think we’re almost past that point where we need to be talking about what’s needed now to make it a viable option.”