Solar Thermal Power Poised for Prime Time

Washington, D.C.—Yet another renewable energy technology—concentrating solar power (CSP)—may be ready for the explosive growth that has marked solar photovoltaic and wind power systems in recent years.

CSP, a utility-scale technology ideally suited to desert areas, is resurging around the world, with major facilities being built or planned in the U.S. Southwest, Spain, North Africa, Peru, Chile, and even Germany, write Susan Moran and J. Thomas McKinnon in the March/April issue of World Watch magazine. In the United States, a “perfect storm” of influences—especially growing public concern about coal, new venture capital, high oil prices, and state renewable energy mandates—is positioning CSP to become a much bigger part of the energy mix.

CSP delivers power in the middle of the day, when demand is typically highest. And CSP facilities can be equipped with thermal storage capacity that enables them to supply “off-peak” power long after the sun has gone down. Costs are currently around 17 cents per kilowatthour (kWh), but Moran and McKinnon cite one set of projections suggesting that cost could drop to 8 cents/kWh with experience. Department of Energy research grants have been awarded to nine U.S. companies in an effort to bring costs down to 7 cents/kWh by 2020.

Although Congress failed to extend a solar investment tax credit earlier this year, many U.S. states are more sympathetic. In California, for instance, several utilities have signed power purchase agreements with builders of CSP facilities.

ALSO IN THE MARCH/APRIL ISSUE:

Special Place or Special Zone? The Future of Aqaba, by Yaakov Garb

In 2000, the Jordanian government declared the city of Aqaba a “Special Economic Zone”—a preferred tax- and duty-free site designed explicitly to attract investment and international business. This distinction has transformed Aqaba from a small town to one of the most talked-about development sites in the Middle East, for better or for worse.

India’s Janadesh 2007: A Long March toward Justice, by Skye Hohmann

Last October, 25,000 of India’s poorest farmers walked 340 kilometers in searing heat to demand that the government fulfill land-rights promises made decades ago.

Vital Signs: Coal Use Rises Dramatically Despite Impacts on Climate and Health, by James Russell

Vital Signs: Grain Harvest Sets Record, But Supplies Still Tight,< by Brian Halweil

Plus: From Readers, Eye on Earth, Talking Pictures, and Life-Cycle Studies: Bananas

MATTERS OF SCALE: All Wet

Amount of water embodied in (required to produce) a slice of bread (liters)...............................40

An apple.............................................................................................................70

A hamburger.....................................................................................................2,400

(for more Matters of Scale, see the March/April issue of World Watch.)