A hectic pace of development spurred by expiring national and state incentive programs has caused multiple reliability problems among the world’s most advanced solar energy plants, according to a study by the National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL).
Hurrying to complete plants and meet operational and financial deadlines often left crews assigned to operate the plants with too little training about how to deal with glitches.
The sprawling facilities with mirrors arrayed in the shape of large circles are referred to as concentrating solar power (CSP) projects. Their mirrors and lenses capture high temperatures needed to efficiently produce or store electricity. Almost 100 of these plants have been built around the world.
The report describes how NREL investigators expected to find that delays and breakdowns have been caused by glitches in the facilities’ high technology. But they wound up concluding that a welter of low-tech problems including difficulties making steam, leaking salt water, cleaning mirrors and poorly designed control systems were the major complaints of plant owners.
Described as a “first-of-its-kind report,” it shows how a lack of quality controls caused cost overruns and poor preparedness dating back to 1991. That was the year when the U.S. pioneer of CSP technology, Luz International Ltd., went bankrupt after completing nine solar plants in California. At the time, it was the largest solar producer in the world with 1,800 employes.
After visiting owners or operators of nearly 80% of the operating CSP plants worldwide, NREL researchers found over 1,000