3.5 Concentrating Solar or Solar Photovoltaics?
Today, concentrating solar and solar Photovoltaics are two proven solar energy technologies which have been successfully implemented in commercial scale to generate electricity.Both technologies are now economically and technically viable in certain regions but each technology has specific and intrinsic constraints. In this article, we are going to determine the technology which will most likely to help conquer the energy crisis in the near future. Then, we will answer the question “Which technology is the best?”
Concentrating solar or solar Photovoltaics? Which is the best?
Nowadays, this question is creating news bulletins in mainstream news sources. The answer is often controversial, biased and depends on the editor’s point of view. So, prior to drawing our conclusion, let us discuss both the pros and cons of having a concentrating solar thermal power plant and solar photovoltaics. Then we can draw an unbiased conclusion.
Several decades ago, concentrating solar power received much interest and was recognized as a potential renewable energy technology for generating clean electricity. Although it was not cost-competitive compared to conventional fossil fuels, concentrating solar power was a straightforward concept. Many believed that it could be developed to generate grid-scale electricity. And finally, it became a reality.
Several types of concentrating solar power technologies were developed as we discussed in a previous article. Their system efficiency has been continuously improving with the advancement of science and technology. In addition to the continuous improvement in the energy conversion efficiency, this technology has shown outstanding achievements and has now evolved into a commercially viable, technically feasible solar energy technology. Dozens of commercial-scale concentrating solar power plants are currently fully operational and the number of commercial plants keeps increasing with the increasing demand for electricity. The worldwide cumulative energy conversion capacity of concentrating solar thermal power was 3.4 GW, and 4.4 GW in 2013 and 2014, respectively which grew by nearly 9 % to 4.8 GW in 2015.
It is an investors’ rule of thumb that no investment is attracted by a small beer. Simply, the commercial-scale concentrating solar power plants which are currently operational clearly manifest the success of the technology.
If it was not an efficacious technology there would not be operational concentrating solar thermal power plants in the world.
How important they are…
As mentioned earlier, the cumulative capacity of concentrating solar thermal power was 4.8 GW in 2015. This is equivalent to about 10 coal-powered plants each with a capacity of 500 MW. However, this is just a derisory capacity when we compare it with the cumulative hydropower capacity which was 1064 GW in 2015 and current global power demand, 17.5 TW [1, 2].
Why concentrating solar thermal power capacity has not been proliferating fast? It is one of the most matured solar power technology, though.
What is wrong with it?
Let us discuss in the next article.
 Kabir, E., Kumar, P., Kumar, S., Adelodun, A. A., and Kim, K. H. (2018). Solar energy: Potential and future prospects. Renewable and Sustainable Energy Reviews, 82, 894-900.
 Hu, A., Levis, S., Meehl, G. A., Han, W., Washington, W. M., Oleson, K. W., and Strand, W. G. (2016). Impact of solar panels on global climate. Nature Climate Change, 6 (3), 290-294.