Who would want Abengoa’s assets?

Abengoa bankruptcy: Who might buy the company's CSP plant assets in Chile, South Africa and the USA, or invest in Abengoa Yield? Photo: Mojave Solar Project, Abengoa

Abengoa bankruptcy: Who might buy the Spanish company’s CSP plant assets in Chile, South Africa and the USA, or invest in Abengoa Yield? Photo: Mojave Solar Project, Abengoa

By Jason Deign

Abengoa, the Spanish renewable infrastructure developer, is thought to be hunting buyers for assets, including a large amount of storage, as it faces bankruptcy.

The company filed for preliminary creditor protection a fortnight ago after failing to secure funds from investors led by Gonvarri Corporación Financiera. It now has four months to secure an agreement with creditors.

Given scale of the business, which employs 7,000 people in Spain and many more abroad, it is possible the company might be bailed out by whichever party wins general elections in Spain this December 20.

In any event, however, it seems likely the business will be forced to sell much of its project portfolio to offset debts that may amount to more than €20bn.

According to data from Abengoa’s website, that portfolio includes a total of 27 hours of molten salt storage tied to some 360MW of solar thermal plant generation, spread across three projects in South Africa and one in Chile.
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The tricky art of storing heat from the sun

The poster boy for concentrated solar power with thermal energy storage is Torresol Energy’s 19.9MW Gemasolar power plant in Andalusia, Spain. Photo credit: SENER

The poster boy for concentrated solar power with thermal energy storage is Torresol Energy’s 19.9MW Gemasolar power plant in Andalusia, Spain. Photo credit: SENER

A Chilean renewable energy tender that closed in October could be the first in the world where energy storage becomes the deciding factor for success. Great news for the industry? Perhaps. But actually it’s not so easy to say.

The bidding for a concentrated solar power (CSP) plant in Chile’s Atacama Desert, backed by a USD$20m government grant and more than $86m in alternative funding, is conditional on a minimum three-hour thermal energy storage (TES) facility.

And sources close to the tender, the entries for which are still being considered by the Chilean government, have confirmed that if there is a tie between different offers on all the main eligibility criteria then the amount of storage will determine which project wins. This might sound unusual, but in CSP it’s not something that would raise eyebrows.

After all, CSP players have increasingly been embracing storage in recent years. For those new to the subject, CSP involves focusing sunlight onto a point to create enough heat to drive a turbine. The critical word here is ‘heat’: unlike photovoltaics (PV), CSP does not produce electricity directly from sunlight. That means it can only be used in areas with high solar irradiation. It’s also generally more expensive than PV.
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CSP benefits from energy storage

The new molten salt parabolic trough CSP demonstration plant in Massa Martana, Italy. Photo credit: Chiyoda Corporation

The new molten salt parabolic trough CSP demonstration plant in Massa Martana, Italy. Photo credit: Chiyoda Corporation

Concentrated solar power (CSP) has one key advantage over the ever-cheapening photovoltaic (PV) competition: the ability to directly integrate thermal energy storage (TES) and thus provide dispatchable energy.

It’s perhaps with this in mind that Italy’s Archimede Solar Energy and Japan’s Chiyoda are collaborating to build a parabolic trough demonstration plant that uses molten salt as both a heat transfer fluid (HTF) and thermal energy storage medium.
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Concentrating solar in crisis – energy storage to the rescue?

The outlook for concentrating solar power (CSP) is a mixed one, according to Earthtechling. The technology that uses mirrors to focus sunlight to create heat, which can then be utilize to produce electricity, is chalking up some successes, with big projects in the US and South Africa.

On the other hand, BrightSource Energy is not having the success it hoped for, with only two projects green-lit out of a possible five. Meanwhile, Siemens has turned its back on the sector entirely. The reason? The industry cannot compete with the plummeting price of photovoltaic (PV) technology.

But there may be some good news on the horizon, according to the CSP industry itself – and that is energy storage. “A robust body of research is available and demonstrates that CSP with storage provides additional economic and reliability value to utilities and grid operators when compared to other renewable investments,” Udi Helman, director of economic and pricing analysis for BrightSource Energy, said in a CSPA release.

The NREL study which Helman cites, reports that: “CSP with a six-hour storage capacity can lower peak net loads when the sun isn’t shining, enough to add $35.80 per megawatt hour to the capacity and operational value of the utility, compared to photovoltaic (PV) solar power alone, and even higher extra value when compared to CSP without storage.”

Areva teams with Sandia for CSP storage

Areva Solar has announced it is collaborating with Sandia National Laboratories on a new concentrated solar power (CSP) installation with thermal energy storage. As the company’s online video shows, the CSP storage project combines Areva’s modular compact linear fresnel reflector solar design with Sandia Labs’ molten-salt storage system.

This will be the first CSP integration with Sandia Labs’ Molten Salt Test Loop System, located at the US Department of Energy’s National Solar Thermal Test Facility in Albuquerque, New Mexico, says the company.