The United States Department of Energy (DOE) stated its plans to invest $60 million to support the advancement of concentrated solar power (CSP) technologies.
As part of the Department's Sunshot Initiative the funds will be awarded to research institutions and solar developers over the next three years.
The DOE anticipates this new round of solar funding to support between 20 and 22 projects that seek to develop new concepts and approaches in the design of technologies used in CSP systems.
A concentrating solar power system can be broken down into three major components: the collectors, the receivers, and the power cycle equipment. Through the SunShot CSP program, the government hopes to advance technologies in all three of these subsystems to both increase the efficiency and also lower the cost of CSP systems.
This new funding comes after a tumultuous couple of months for concentrated solar power in the United States. With rapidly falling prices for photovoltaic (PV) modules, they have begun pouring into U.S. from Asian markets. This predicament has left developers of other solar technologies, in particular CSP, struggling to stay competitive.
In August, Solar Trust of America, a U.S. joint venture between German-based Solar Millennium AG (XETRA: S2M.DE) and Ferrostall AG, said it was changing technologies from CSP to PV for its multi-billion dollar Blythe Solar installation in California. The company had just a month earlier partnered with German-based PV developer Solarhybrid AG to create solarhybrid of America which develops stand-alone PV sites.
Earlier this month, Solar Millennium, whose expertise lies largerly in CSP technology, sold its entire 2.25 GW U.S. solar project portfolio to Solarhybrid. Upon the sale, Solar Millennium said it would "be available as a project partner as soon as the U.S. demand for storable solar energy starts growing once again".
This announcement came just weeks after Arizona-based, utility-scale CSP developer Stirling Energy Systems, Inc. filed for bankruptcy.
The news has not been all bad for concentrating solar power, however. In late August, NextEra Energy Resources, a subsidiary of NextEra Energy Inc. (NYSE: NEE) secured financing for its $852 million Genesis solar farm which will employ CSP technology. The company made it clear the 250 MW solar farm, located in Riverside County, California, will "feature proven parabolic trough solar thermal technology".
The DOE, which is backing the Genesis project with a partial loan guarantee, says, that when complete, the solar farm "will increase the nation’s currently installed CSP capacity by 50 percent."
With this new round of funding it seems the DOE is hoping to get other CSP projects back on track in the U.S. solar market. It could be that the Department is also trying to create a more diverse solar market in an industry that has become increasingly saturated with low cost PV imports.
Image Credit: Tom Raftery via Flickr
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