Everything’s Bigger in Texas-Except Solar CSP

Concentrating Solar Power

It’s great to see NRG and other utilities investing in “solar thermal” electricity, or Concentrating Solar Power (CSP).  I have to admit though that it’s disappointing Texas isn’t mentioned anywhere in these news articles – even though there wouldn’t be much to say about Texas and CSP.

Why? Although Texas is one of only five states in the entire U.S. with the kind of direct sunlight to make a large amount of CSP viable, it is the only one of those states that doesn’t have a single CSP project in the works.  These CSP plant vendors have set up shop in California, Nevada, Arizona and New Mexico, and there have even been some test projects in Colorado and Utah, but Texas has been left in the shade when it comes to solar thermal electricity. You don’t have to talk to very many people in the CSP industry to find out why: While other states in the Southwest have established renewable portfolio standards (RPS) and tax exemptions attracting industry attention, the Lone Star state has fallen behind the renewable energy crowd.  

It’s important when people talk about solar power that they include all forms of solar energy, from photovoltaics to solar water heaters – and particularly CSP.  CSP plants have some distinct advantages when it comes to large scale generation (let’s say 50MW or greater) including reliability, thermal storage and economies of scale.  Since a CSP plant is basically steel, mirrors, a turbine and some sort of liquid, the technology has been able to mature at a relatively quick pace and costs are already on par with peaking power in the Southwest.

The good news is that in the next few months, the Texas legislature has a chance to act, a chance to change things.  Judging from the early buzz, solar power is a hot topic in the capitol with some even dubbing this the “sunny” session.

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