Opportunities abound in concentrated solar power
Photovoltaics as a business prospect has been the talk of the glass industry. However, the solar industry also offers opportunities for glass companies in the concentrated solar power market, according to two CSP experts who spoke Feb. 13 during GlassWeek in Las Vegas.
CSP uses mirrors to capture solar thermal energy. The benefit of CSP is that the energy can be stored, says Frank “Tex” Wilkins, CSP team leader, Solar Energy Program, Department of Energy. “CSP allows for thermal storage. You take in the energy, save it, use it later. You can put that power into the grid whenever you want,” Wilkins said.
CSP requires significant amounts of glass mirror and anti-reflective glass. “There are great opportunities for those of you who are interested in selling mirrors,” Wilkins said.
Although the construction market has slowed, along with the overall economy, “the solar market is still booming,” said Cheryl Kennedy, senior scientist at the National Renewable Energy Laboratory, a facility of the DOE in Golden, Colo.
The solar boom has been boosted by the recent passage of the stimulus package, Wilkins said. Solar technologies had a “huge win” with the stimulus. Instead of offering tax credits for solar energy, the stimulus provides refunds, he said. “We’re anticipating the future is going to be rosy for solar,” he said.
Despite recent advancements in CSP technologies, more research and development is needed to make the technology more efficient and cost effective. Wilkins estimates that with the needed advancements, along with increasing adoption of the technology, CSP will be cost-competitive with natural gas in the Southwest by 2015. “With a lot of storage and a push for research and development, it could also be cost competitive with coal,” he said.
The CSP industry is relying on the glass industry to perform its own R&D, Kennedy said. “The [operations and maintenance] costs for cleaning the mirrors are quite high. Whoever can come up with a self-cleaning product that doesn’t have to be reapplied will be the company that takes the market,” she said.