Murcia, Spain: The 30 MW Puerto Errado 2 Fresnel power plant.
Photo: Novatec Solar GmbH
Overview of solar thermal power plant projects worldwide (as of the end of 2013).
Costs of solar thermal electricity plants are decreasing rapidly. In some countries they are already almost competitive while in Europe it will happen before 2020. The chart shows the required value of a 25 years Power Purchase Agreement (PPA) for a 150 MW, 4 hours storage, solar thermal electricity plant without any public financial aids and no escalation. The borders of the resulting price band correspond mainly to different Direct Normal Irradiation (DNI) in kWh/m²/y.
Source: Estela (2012): The Essential Role of Solar Thermal Electricity.

Commercial use

The economic viability of CSP depends very much on local factors. Natural conditions, market conditions, and access to project financing have a major influence on the success of the technology; for example, the use of solar thermal power plants makes the most economic sense in countries with particularly high solar radiation levels. They can also support the expansion of other renewable energy technologies, since their storage capability enables them to provide electricity on demand and thus offset the fluctuations from PV or wind turbines. Hence they play an important role in a commercially optimised overall energy supply system with a large share of safe and clean renewable energies.

Due to the relatively high electricity production costs, continued marketing of solar thermal power plant technology currently still relies on favourable general economic conditions, or support mechanisms such as feed-in compensation, subsidies, or loan guarantees for initial investments, and/or fixed term purchase agreements for specific projects, as well as mandatory renewable energy quotas for utilities, where the long-term reliability of these conditions is essential.

The exact measures vary from region to region. In Italy, for example, a new support system was introduced at the beginning of 2013 to provide additional incentives for the implementation of CSP projects. The feed-in tariff is now calculated on the basis of the total collector area; what is more, utilities must also generate a fixed proportion of electricity from renewable energy sources. In detail, this means that compensation is graded according to the percentage of solar energy in the total power output. The more electricity from solar energy, the higher the compensation. South Africa also introduced feed-in compensation in 2013 which is considerably higher for the peak times in the evening (by a factor of about three). South Africa is thus currently regarded as being one of the most attractive ­markets in the world for solar thermal power plants.