Solar thermal power plants switching technology to take advantage of falling PV prices – San Jose Mercury NewsJan 20th, 2012 | By John Waller | Category: Solar PV
A free fall in prices of photovoltaic solar panels has caused several large solar generating projects in California to shift plans in ways that could eventually benefit the state’s electricity consumers.
Three years ago, renewable energy developers laid plans to populate the American Southwest with massive solar thermal power plants, which concentrate the sun’s rays to boil water and create steam to turn turbines that generate electricity. But as the projects went through lengthy permitting and environmental reviews, the price of photovoltaic solar panels plummeted because of a global oversupply driven by a glut of low-cost panels from China.
That made PV panels, which are common on homes and commercial roofs, increasingly attractive to project developers, banks and utilities like PG&E and Southern California Edison, which have to justify the cost of renewable energy contracts before state regulators. Several large solar projects have now announced plans to switch from solar thermal to PV.
State energy officials say the shift will not have an immediate impact on consumers, but eventually may result in lower-priced electricity than what would have come from the solar thermal plants.
“PV is very cheap right now and it’s faster to put up,” said Paula Mints, a solar industry analyst with Navigant Consulting. Solar thermal, she added, “takes about two years to build. With PV there’s more instant gratification.”