Low-cost Solar Thermal Plants at Heart of Algerian-German Research Push

Publié le par Dr Hadroug Nasser

The development of a new generation of large-scale, low-cost solar thermal power plants is the focus of a joint research agreement signed between Algeria and Germany.

Researchers will be sharing data and expertise to speed up the market introduction of large-scale solar thermal plants. The plants could supply up to 200 megawatts (MW) of electricity and desalinate water for 50,000 people.

According to an interview done with Bernhard Milow from the German Aerospace Center (DLR), electricity from solar thermal plants could cost as little as €0.07/kWh by 2020,  if the power plants are in prime locations, even factoring in high steel prices and other cost. Electricity from solar thermal plants currently costs €0.20 to 0.30/kWh [US $0.31 to 0.47/kWh], depending on the location of the plant and the amount of sunshine it receives. But with improvements in the performance of plants and better sites (in Algeria for example), solar thermal electricity could soon be cheaper than coal, and so generate huge amounts of reliable, clean electricity in hot desert regions", Milow said.
And using solar thermal power to desalinate seawater could cost the same.

The technology and science is all there. It's just a question of transferring that knowledge to those who have the sunshine and optimizing the technology to make it competitive.

By 2050, he estimated that 10 - 25 percent of Europe's electricity needs could be supplied by North African solar thermal plants.

The agreement between the DLR in Germany and the New Energy Algeria (NEAL) in Algeria will allow German researchers access to data from the 150 MW hybrid solar-gas plant at Hassi R'mel, 420 kilometers south of Algiers. The plant is already in operation and has a 25 MW solar energy capacity with a parabola trough design. The DLR researchers will look at ways of optimizing the design and manufacture of the component parts and the efficiency of the collectors and absorbers.

Another area for research will be thermal storage technology.

"The DLR has 30 years of experience in solar thermal power technology while Algeria has the right sites for these plants, and has committed itself developing the technology for its own use and for export to Europe, so we can help each other out," Milow said.

Algeria has introduced a feed-in tariff for electricity from solar thermal plants to boost the use of the technology, and NEAL plans to build pure solar thermal plants without gas as soon as possible. The typical solar thermal plant of the future could be as large 200 MW and supply electricity to 250,000 people and fresh water to 50,000 people.

In fact, solar thermal desalination plants could turn as much as 100,000 m³ / day of sea water into fresh, clean water — and so help boost agriculture and secure the supply of drinking water in a region increasingly hit by drought. According to a German study, there is already a shortfall of 50 billion cubic meters of fresh water in the region and that shortfall is set to grow to 150 billion by 2050. Algeria is particularly rich in sites suitable for solar thermal desalination plants.

The DLR has identified the best locations for plants using satellite images to encourage investment.

"80 percent of the finance for solar thermal projects will come from private investors who will be looking for the best return. That means finding places where there are as few clouds as possible," said Milow.

The DLR has used weather data going back for decades to identity locations with the most sunshine. An average of 2200 kWh of solar radiation falls on each square meter of Algeria with 2650 kWh falling on the Sahara desert region; this compares to just 1000 kWh falling on a square meter in Germany, and 1300 kWh in Spain with 1900 kWh in few and small areas. One study estimated that solar energy harnessed just from Algeria could supply 60 times the electricity needs of Europe.

To transport the electricity to Europe, a 1,875 mile high voltage direct current cable is to be built between Algeria and Germany, running through Sardinia, Italy and Switzerland.

Publié dans Solar Power

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